How to protect yourself from sociopaths in 3 easy steps

Serious young woman giving stop gestureYes, you can protect yourself from having sociopaths come into your life and causing serious damage. I’m going to tell you how to do it in three easy steps:

Step 1 Know that sociopaths exist

Millions of sociopaths live among us. I am not exaggerating that number.

I use the word “sociopath” as an umbrella term for three serious personality disorders. They are:

  • Antisocial personality disorder /psychopathy
  • Narcissistic personality disorder
  • Borderline personality disorder

Although there are clinical differences among these disorders, there are many similarities. People who have these disorders are usually superficially charming. But they also tend to be exploitative, manipulative, deceitful, impulsive and lacking in empathy.

So how many people have these disorders? Experts estimate that:

  • 1% to 4% of the population are antisocial / psychopaths
  • Up to 6% of the population are narcissistic
  • 1% to 2% of the population are borderline

Add these figures up, and as many as 12% of the population may be sociopathic. In the United States, that’s 37 million people.

Plus, there are additional people who have antisocial, narcissistic or borderline traits, but not the full disorder. Believe me, you don’t want to get involved with them either.

Sociopaths can be male, female, old, young, rich, poor. They come from all races, religions, walks of life and segments of society.

Unfortunately, most of us are clueless about personality disorders, and how widespread they are. Anyone who is uninformed is vulnerable.

So this is the first step in protecting yourself: Know that sociopaths exist.

Step 2 Know the warning signs of sociopathic behavior

As my research for my book, Red Flags of Love Fraud: 10 signs you’re dating a sociopath, I conducted an Internet survey that was completed by more than 1,300 people. According to the survey results, most people see the warning signs of sociopathic behavior. They just don’t know what the signs mean.

So what are the warning signs?

  1. Charisma and charm. They’re smooth talkers, always have an answer, never miss a beat. They seem to be very exciting.
  1. Sudden soul mates. They figure out what you want, make themselves into that person, then tell you that your relationship was “meant to be.”
  1. Sexual magnetism.Ӭ If you feel intense attraction, if your physical relationship is unbelievable, it may be their excess testosterone.
  1. Love bombing. You’re showered with attention and adoration. They want to be with you all the time. They call, text and e-mail constantly.
  1. Blames others for everything. Nothing is ever their fault. They always have an excuse. Someone else causes their problems.
  1. Lies and gaps in the story. You ask questions, and the answers are vague. They tell stupid lies. They tell outrageous lies. They lie when they’d make out better telling the truth.
  1. Intense eye contact.Ӭ Call it the predatory stare. If you get a chill down your spine when they look at you, pay attention.
  1. Moves fast to hook up. ”¨It’s a whirlwind romance. They quickly proclaim their true love. They want to move in together or get married quickly.
  1. Pity play. They appeal to your sympathy. They want you to feel sorry for their abusive childhood, psychotic ex, incurable disease or financial setbacks.
  1. Jekyll and Hyde personality. ӬOne minute they love you; the next minute they hate you. Their personality changes like flipping a switch.

People who have one or two of these traits are not sociopaths. For example, someone can be charismatic and sexy without being disordered. For someone to be a sociopath, you need to see pretty much all of these symptoms.

If you do see this complete pattern, get the person out of your life.

For more description of each of these traits, read the Red Flags of Love Fraud, which is available in the Lovefraud Bookstore.

Step 3 Trust your intuition

According to Gavin deBecker, author of The Gift of Fear, our intuition has evolved over millennia as an early warning system to protect us from danger.

So if you get a gut feeling that something is wrong with an individual, or you just know there is a problem, even if you can’t put your finger on it, pay attention. That is your intuition warning you of danger.

Unfortunately, in Western society we are taught to value analysis and evidence over intuition. So even though you may have an internal siren blaring about someone, you may believe that you need proof of wrongdoing before taking steps to remove yourself from the situation.

This happens all the time. In my research for Red Flags of Love Fraud, I asked survey respondents whether they had an intuition or gut feeling early in a relationship that there was something wrong with the individual.

The result: 71% of people said yes. But most of them 40% went ahead with the relationship anyway.

Why? They doubted themselves. Or, they wanted to give the individual the benefit of the doubt. Or, they wanted to believe the best about the person.

Generally, when a person is bad news, your intuition will warn you. The important point is to act on the warning.


Protecting yourself from sociopaths is a matter of awareness.

(The exception is when you’re born into a family with sociopaths. Obviously you have no choice about who your relatives are, so the process of becoming aware and protecting yourself follows a different path.)

You may still meet a sociopath. After all, millions of them live among us, so it is likely that you will cross paths with a disordered person sooner or later.

But by knowing sociopaths exist, knowing the warning signs of sociopathic behavior, and paying attention to your intuition, you will protect yourself from inviting a sociopath into your life.


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41 Comments on "How to protect yourself from sociopaths in 3 easy steps"

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Great post Donna- very informative!

Two quick notes…

Some folks hear the word “borderline” and think it means that the person is on the “borderline” of being sociopathic. That’s not true. “Borderline Personality Disorder” is a distinct character disorder which is as potent as Narcissism and Anti Social Personality Disorder. Here’s a good description> http://psychcentral.com/disorders/borderline-personality-disorder-symptoms/

At the foundation of all character disorder is the person’s inability to experience conscience. Without a conscience the only thing that prevents them from harming others, whenever the spirit moves them, is fear of exposure or consequences. The three distinct disorder types produce different “affects” in the person’s behavior, but all are toxic.

Also, gut instincts function as a result of experience and exposure. The first time a person encounters a relationship with a sociopath, it’s more difficult to recognize and react to the signs. Once the person experiences the harm in the relationship, “gut instincts” can be more effective in protecting them.

Fortunately, we see information in the mainstream today that can alert people, even if they are yet to fall victim. But they would react intellectually rather than intuitively.

Once harmed, many survivors think that they’ve been ill shaped by their experience because they can no longer trust. In fact, experience is simply the best teacher. Fear puts us on the lookout, and that’s a positive, not a negative thing. None-the-less, victims go through difficulty mourning the loss of their innocence. Embracing that loss is a sign of recovery.

I have been on this site for quite awhile and have done a lot of reading and educating myself on this (these disordered persons)subject.
As the victim of a spath I am in the recovery stage.
I am still trying to understand this.
Why they do this. What are they trying to hide?
Is it that they are so insecure about their own self, even though they appear so confident?
I think I understand and then I get confused.

My thoughts and questions precisely.

Strong and Flicka-

I can understand your dilemma. The harm they do just doesn’t make sense to morally intact people with empathy.

What they’re trying to hide is whatever they know they’ve done wrong. They’re not stupid. Far from it. And they’ll discard you for any number of reasons:

They’ll do so if you start catching on to them.
They’ll do so if there is something to be gained by doing so.
They’ll do so as part of a push-pull to get you stuck like glue.

They don’t think like you do. And yes, there is a deeply rooted insecurity about them, particularly Narcissists and Borderlines. It’s an insecurity that is not something that YOU can fix. It was put there in their very early childhood development.

A Narcissist is consumed with their reflection because they need to produce an image for the world to see. They don’t feel confident about themselves. They’re concerned about how they appear. They will undermine you to maintain, protect or improve their appearance.

A Borderline has an innate fear of abandonment. It could have resulted from a death or desertion of a care giver, from abuse, from separation or many other circumstances. That’s not to say all children who experienced these things become Borderlines, but if they also lack empathy, they would be at high risk.

Thank you Jm_Short for your valued clarification. Much of my dilemma lies in this fact: if one accepts that the sociopath simply does not have the capacity of normal emotions, how does this jive with their continual attempts to devastate their now NC, but former victims? They often seem incapable of robotically walking away from ex victims and on to new ones, thereby demonstrating some sort of deep-seated emotional hatred bent on total destruction. This leads to the conclusion that sociopaths are indeed capable of emotions (i.e. fear, hatred) but none of them in the positive column (love, care, responsibility, respect etc.)

You are so right on in your observation.
I made a similar statement to my husband. He’d say, “I’m not an emotional feelie person, never have been.”

And I’d argue back to him, “yes you are VERY emotional, but only with the dark emotions of rage, anger, revenge. You give those emotions full expression.”

And funnily enough, he agreed although he’d correct me and say, “I don’t feel anger. I feel frustration because they don’t comply when they know better(animals, people that he wanted to do certain things). It did not occur to my ex that people’s choices should be respected. Thus he thought “getting them to do what he wanted” was acceptable and appropriate, and Not doing what he wanted was a sign of weakness.

You see, I did learn his moral reasoning, just as I was able to learn the moral system of my birth family. I understood it, but I completely disagreed with it.

part II of my thoughts

Narcissists are insecure.
Sociopaths KNOW themselves. There’s no insecurity about their core belief of entitlement and superiority.

My ex is very strong in his core beliefs that he is entitled to put people in their “place”. Pecking order matters very much to him.

The law (for stupid people) might interfere with his core beliefs, but that’s why sometimes he has to bide his time until the opportunity presents itself. And he accepts that delay” but he does not forget anyone who has slighted him.


And thank you for those notes.

So informative and true…

I believe the first time we’re in a relationship with these disordered types, it IS trickier to recognize and react!

That’s exactly how I felt about it.

The good news is that once burned, people become wiser!

Even though you may not be able to spot them right at the outset, the length of time it takes you to catch on will diminish. It’ll be easier for you to walk away, and the amount of time it takes you to heal will likely be far less than the first time around.



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