How can you know when you’ve encountered a sociopath?

“The motivation (for lying) is particularly baffling in endogenous deceit when the psychopath may appear to have everything he wants yet continues quite predictably to commence the manipulative cycle.” So says Dr. Reid Meloy in The Psychopathic Mind, p121.

“I don’t think they even eat an ice cream cone just for pleasure, I think they do everything for the effect it has, or the image it presents. It isn’t about what is REAL it is about what they can appear to be. To them, I think, if they can get others to believe it, then it becomes “reality” as far as they are concerned.” So says Ox Drover in a comment on this blog.

There is complete agreement about one thing regarding sociopaths, that is lying defines them. While studies show that many people lie daily, the lying behavior of sociopaths differs in both degree and kind from “normal” lying. Sociopaths do not just misrepresent the truth in small ways to spare someone’s feelings, avoid an argument or avoid trouble. Sociopaths misrepresent themselves and this misrepresentation extends to everyone they know. (For more advanced readers, there may not be much of a self there to misrepresent.)

You don’t need a checklist

So today I can tell you with confidence that you don’t need a checklist of symptoms or a forensic expert. If you are astounded by another person’s capacity to lie and misrepresent reality you can be sure you have encountered a sociopath.

I said a few weeks ago that I think Meloy’s book The psychopathic Mind is a great contribution to humanity. In this book, Meloy puts forth the idea that we can identify “psychopaths” by observing what he calls “the psychopathic process.” I searched the book for a precise definition of “the psychopathic process” and couldn’t find one but he implies that psychopathy is defined by the way a person interacts with others and with him/herself. He also says that it is possible to identify a “psychopath” by the way that person makes you feel. If you can look within yourself and monitor your own reactions you can learn to tell when you are face to face with “the psychopathic process.”

It doesn’t “work” on me anymore!

I have learned what it feels like to be “worked” and because I know what that feels like, “it” doesn’t work on me anymore. Sociopaths do not just lie, they work people. Their relationships are an occupation for them and it’s not just a job, it’s an adventure. They will even work when there is no apparent reason to. Why do they do this? They do this because there is nothing else they can do. They have little or no capacity to look within and find an inner compass of values and pleasures. As Ox Drover points out, the only real pleasure they have is their “work.”

Dr. Meloy gives a great example of a psychopath “at work” on page 138 when he discusses a professional who was “worked” by a psychopath. Knowing that he was going to be assigned a certain probation officer, the psychopath asked others who knew her about her interests. On discovering that the woman was interested in metaphysics and the writings of Alfred North Whitehead, the psychopath went and read the writings. He then gained the respect and admiration of the P.O. because he discussed these writings as if he too had a genuine interest in them that predated his knowledge of her.

Meloy says, “He does not just play the role, observing the limits of his character, but lives the part.” People are taken in by the psychopath’s work because in the moment the psychopath really thinks and feels the part. His part is real and yet also a deception.

You know you are being worked when the things you love/enjoy are mirrored in this way. You can tell the difference between this mirroring and real sharing by the extent to which the other person tries to build your enthusiasm and point to the apparent “twin-ship” you share. This mirroring and twin-ship can occur with big things as in the metaphysics example and it can occur with little things as in the ice cream example.

Now if you know what I am talking about, you have been worked; you are likely far along in the recovery process because you know what this feels like. If you have only a vague notion of what I am saying, Dr. Meloy has other words of wisdom for you.

In the psychopathic process there is a “complete disconnect between words and actions.” If you notice that a person’s actions point south and their words point north, you are dealing with a sociopath. To be concrete, if the person says they love you and either doesn’t spend much time with you, or repeatedly harms and stresses you, you are in the middle of a psychopathic process. But remember since the person “lives the part” at the moment he/she is with you and says “I love you” there is some vague reality to the statement (especially if the person has the disorder in a lesser form, see last week). To see the psychopathic process, you have to train yourself to pay attention to both a person’s words and to remember that person’s deeds at the same time.

If you do this you will be able to see the disconnect between words and deeds and the psychopathic process. If you begin to see the psychopathic process, it is very important that you not share this observation with the psychopath. He or she will not benefit from your feedback and may even become violent. At the moment you see the process, you must discipline yourself and disconnect. If you have problems with self-discipline you likely need a therapist to help you disentangle from the psychopathic process.

Recovery and discovery are about learning to pay attention. Pay attention to yourself and pay attention to what other people say and do. Most people need help in order to learn the skill of paying attention. That is the kind of help a good therapist can give you.

In the next few weeks we’ll talk more about the psychopathic process. Please feel free to share your experience of being worked or the disconnect between words and deeds.

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I needed to read this today!! Thank You!!
I’m tired. He wrote an email to my attorney calling her names…refuses to sign court ordered documents etc etc. Then he texts my daughter saying that he has been offered a job at one of the largest tech companies reporting to the CEO. He stars on May 10th after a big public announcement. He has asked my daughter to keep his job confidential until the public announcement. My attorney will send the new company the wage withholding order from my divorce. That is how this new executive VP is going to start his job. These are people our youth look to for mentorship ???? Im really alarmed at where the corporate culture has gone!!Snake in a suit is right!!!

I like it…JPS! 🙂 I’ll remember what it stands for!!! After reading about what your spath said,I was reminded of how my spath was always criticizing my neck,trying to make me feel bad,that I was showing my age.The jerk!I posted on here the other day how a neighbor thought I was in my 30’s;and I’m 53!Oh sure,I can find things about myself I don’t like….but it’s always best to look at the positive things!While the spath was criticizing my neck,he weighed over 200 more lbs more than me and looked like the character F *t B*****d in those movies with Mini Me.


They don’t see us accurately. Nor do they see themselves accurately. If anyone saw me with this slug on a walker, they would never believe we had ever been together in any way other than nurse and old man. When he broke his leg, two young firemen were in my driveway as I walked back into the house after they took spath away. One of them said, “Is that your Dad?” He is 5 years older than me. It does get them in the end and good people always look younger than they are because a light that shines within tells others who we really are and that age means nothing. It is only spaths and the shallow that comment about others while picturing themselves as teenagers. My father is the same way. He is ALWAYS commenting about “How old” different female actors and politicians look while watching TV. Every time, my Mother gets visibly upset and will say something. But, he will never stop. He still thinks he is a handsome young singer in the band like he was in 1965.

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