How the messages we hear all our lives keep us vulnerable to sociopaths

Outraged blonde woman with arms crossed on white backgroundEditor’s note: Lovefraud received the following email from a woman who signed it “Tired of Being Targeted.”

My son’s wife sends me nasty text messages and leaves insulting voice messages. Then she complains to her husband I’m being rude and disrespectful to her. It’s crazy making and she’s clearly projecting.

In the past I took the high road and didn’t tell him but all it got me was year after year of estrangement from my son. With nobody to speak in my defense and expose the truth and her unfounded slander habit, I finally decided to send him a long letter and copy him on all her text messages. I’m now waiting to see if he’ll respond. Even with the facts squarely in front of him, I realize he might still go along to get along with his wife.

Why is it so many younger people lack good reasoning skills? Why is it people tend to believe the first thing they’re told? Mark Twain once said something about it being easier to deceive somebody than to convince them they’ve been deceived. Perhaps you could write an article so others can benefit from understanding ‘projecting’ and ‘crazymaking.’

I just got tired of pussyfooting around nice. It seemed to me the more I ignored her bad behavior the more I became a target. There’s a therapist who said he was so tired of therapists making excuses for people’s bad behavior such as them having a bad childhood or something. He said some people who came from a bad environment grew up to be good people. Some who grew up privileged grew up to be bad people. He mentioned something about shaming these people calling them out on their bad behavior.

One of the reasons I sent my son the e-mail was because I was tired of being targeted by evil people and didn’t want my daughter-in-law piggyback on my ex-husband’s slander. My son (an engineer so it’s understandable) is a ‘true believer’ he stopped thinking early on and is committed to faulty beliefs and any new facts are not brought to bear. I like to call this ‘lazy brain syndrome.’ You can quote me on that, too.

I can tell you stories about my gaslighting ex you wouldn’t believe. Looking back I realize I was so gullible! It would have been nice if somebody sat me down and explained to me how I should listen to that little voice inside of me that says, “Something ain’t right here and why am I now in Kansas?”

Tired of Being Targeted

Donna Andersen responds

Dear Tired,

First of all, I am sorry for what you have endured from your daughter-in-law, and I can understand why you are Tired of Being Targeted.

You asked, “Why is it so many younger people lack good reasoning skills? Why is it people tend to believe the first thing they’re told?”

When it comes to recognizing and understanding sociopathic behavior, I’m afraid that the problem is much more complex than poor reasoning skills. The way I see it, there are three major failures in society that enable sociopaths to engage in, and get away with, their atrocious behavior:

  1. We don’t know that sociopaths exist.
  2. We don’t understand psychological manipulation.
  3. We aren’t taught to use the one tool that can protect us

Clueless about sociopaths

Approximately 39 million people in the United States may have exploitative personality disorders antisocial, narcissistic or borderline. These are the people I refer to as “sociopaths.” Most of us don’t know they exist.

In 2011, the scientific journal Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience published an article that examined previous studies of the prevalence of personality disorders in the United States and around the world. The authors examined five American and four international studies, dating back to 1989, and the studies consistently showed that about 10% of the general population has personality disorders.

The most recent U.S. study is the scariest. It found the following percentages of exploitative personality disorders among non-institutionalized people aged 18 and older:

  • Antisocial personality disorder – 3.6%
  • Borderline personality disorder – 5.9%
  • Narcissistic personality disorder – 6.2%

These are the people who live their lives by exploiting and manipulating others. Add them up and it’s  15.7% of the adult U.S. population, or just over 39 million adults.

So 39 million people go through life taking advantage of us, and most of us don’t know they exist. How does this happen?

Cultural myths that blind us to danger

All our lives, we hear cultural messages in church, school and the media, like the following:

  • “We’re all created equal.”
  • “We all just want to be loved.”
  • “Everybody has good inside.”

Unfortunately, these statements are not true for everybody. They are true for the approximately 84% of the population who are capable of normal love and empathy. The statements are not true for the approximately 16% of the population who have antisocial, narcissistic or borderline personality disorders.

No one tells us that there are exceptions to these feel-good maxims. No one tells us that human predators live among us, and that we need to protect ourselves from them.

In fact, we hear messages that put us in even more danger, like:

  • “Everyone deserves a second chance.”
  • “Give him/her the benefit of the doubt.”
  • “We all have issues/problems/flaws.”

The bottom line: We don’t know that we are surrounded by personality-disordered people who want to take advantage of us. And when we do experience or witness bad behavior, we’re told to explain it away.

Psychological manipulation

All of this sets us up for psychological manipulation by the sociopaths.

Human beings are social animals, and our survival as a species was assured over the millennia because we developed the ability to trust each other. Trust is built into our DNA.

When sociopaths target us for manipulation, the first step is taking advantage of our trust. They use love bombing, deception and the pity play to reel us in. Once we are hooked, they increase the psychological pressure through tactics like information control, gaslighting and intermittent reinforcement.

We may eventually suspect that something is not right in our relationship. But this can lead to cognitive dissonance, which is the mental stress of holding two conflicting beliefs at the same time, or the discomfort of being presented with facts that conflict with our beliefs. When this happens, many of us dump the facts in order to keep the beliefs.

So what happens? The sociopath keeps the pressure up, and psychological bond we feel with him or her becomes stronger and stronger. In time, we can lose our “agency,” which is the capacity to act independently and make our own decisions. That’s why it is so hard to break free of the exploiter.

Listening to the inner voice

Tired, you are right in that the answer for all of us is to learn to listen to our inner voice. Our intuition also developed over the millennia, and its purpose is to warn us about predators.

And what cultural messages do we receive about intuition? None! In fact, instinct is pooh-poohed. We learn that we’re supposed to be rational, and make judgments based on evidence and proof, not on a gut feeling.

Anyway, given society’s general cluelessness about sociopaths and manipulation, I would guess that your son may need more than better reasoning skills to see what is really going on. For him, recognizing the truth of his wife’s behavior and how it is affecting you may entail:

  1. Understanding that sociopaths exist, and they are everywhere
  2. Believing that his wife is targeting you for no reason
  3. Overcoming cognitive dissonance the woman he married is engaged in mean-spirited behavior towards his mother
  4. Accepting that his wife is disordered will not change

This is the path all of us have traveled in order to escape the sociopaths in our lives and make amends to the people we have hurt. It’s a very difficult journey.

Cultural conspiracy?

But let’s get back to the big picture of our cultural messages:

  • We are surrounded by millions of predators, but no one tells us about them.
  • We are encouraged to trust everyone, including the predators.
  • We are discouraged from listening to our intuition, which protects us from predators.

I’d hate to think of a massive conspiracy, but it seems to me that our culture is set up to make us vulnerable to sociopaths.



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25 Comments on "How the messages we hear all our lives keep us vulnerable to sociopaths"

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A great read.

This may be why therapists miss that the client is dealing with a psychopaths.

The idea that everybody has good inside is particularly erroneous.

We do need to understand that psychopaths exist and they are everywhere.

As this says, most people don’t know psychopaths exist. I was not aware until I had an experience with one.


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