Radar not for the sociopath, but for the wrong people

Most of the people who will be bad for us are not sociopaths, and so we want our radar to be sharp, not specifically for sociopaths, but for wrong, bad people of every stripe.

True, sociopaths will be terrible people with whom to enter relationships; in the end, though, they will represent a small fraction of a much greater majority of very wrong people for us.

As I suggested in a prior post, there are two keys to protecting ourselves from Mr. or Mrs. WRONG: The first is developing intelligent radar; the second is acting wisely on that radar.

After all, good radar, no less than good CIA intelligence, is useless if it’s ignored or devalued.

Now, are there cases of sociopaths (and the lot of devious personalities) so slick as to be undetectable until after they’ve wreaked their havoc? Of course there are; to suggest otherwise would insult anyone unlucky enough to have crossed paths with such destructive individuals.

Nevertheless, in most cases, the wrong person—sociopath or not—will and does leave clues much sooner than most of us want to admit (until much later).

WRONG, by the way, for whom? The answer, of course, is, YOU!

It is tempting and, at some point, I suggest, unfruitful to get stuck on the suspected psychopathology of a partner (present, or ex). Because when you get right down to it, there are only two diagnoses that really matter: Is this person, for me, RIGHT, and GOOD? Or WRONG, and BAD?

Only we can make this assessment, and it’s our responsibility, of course, to make it as soundly as possible. By soundly I mean being as honest with ourselves as possible, and keeping our best long-term interests uppermost in mind.

What, then, is the first—and, for that matter, secondtelltale sign that someone is wrong, and really bad, for you, sociopath or not? (And speaking honestly, should we really need more than a sign or two?)

The answer is, ANY EXPRESSED BEHAVIOR or ATTITUDE that leaves you feeling disarmed or disoriented by its inappropriateness, selfishness and/or insensitivity.

Take great heed of such an experience, because almost always, it is a sign that more are sure to follow. In other words, preparing to bail at this point is a wise consideration.

Specifically, what behaviors and attitudes am I referring to? For starters, how about the first, surprising flash of rage, contempt, arrogance, selfishness, coldness, presumptuousness, dishonesty, indifference, ungratefulness, even denseness; shocking acts of abuse, verbal or physical; and startling failures of empathy, or compassion.

It is really less the behavior or attitude, per se, that screams ALARMING”¦prepare to BAIL!, than the experience of it as, “Where did that come from?”

I stress: It is our job, first, to register these signs; and then immediately to register them as alarmingly ominous.

The question is, Will you be willing to see what you’ve seen? Will you be willing to acknowledge the sobering portent of the display? Or instead, for any of a hundred conveniences, will you find ways to pretend you didn’t see it, and/or minimize the ramifications of what you’ve seen?

It is perfectly fine to ask, What, in a new relationship, should I be watchful for? What are the signs that my new interest may be someone different than advertised? I hope I’ve addressed these questions.

Then again, such questions tend, I think, to promote a view of the world as waiting to unleash upon us ruinous new bogeymen and predators, instead of encouraging us to examine what can be harder, but perhaps more honest, useful, retrospective questions, like, What did I miss? Why did I miss it? And if I registered it, why did I choose to ignore or minimize it?

Insight into, and resolution of, these latter questions can confer the best insurance against future exploitation.

In most (certainly not all) cases, it may be less important to be wary of the next nightmare disguised as Mr. or Mrs. SENSITIVE, than more careful of our always lurking capacity for defenses like denial, rationalization and minimization to blind us to what we don’t want to see, and do.

(This article is copyrighted (c) 2008 by Steve Becker, LCSW.)

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328 Comments on "Radar not for the sociopath, but for the wrong people"

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Dear Ana,

You ask, “Why can’t I just let this go?” I think (and this is not an original thought) that the BETRAYAL we have experienced is worse than just being robbed or bilked or cheated by a stranger. Sure, you get mad if a stranger beats you up, but you are devastated if you are beaten up by someone you love. Same Physical injury but different emotional injuries.

I think that BETRAYAL is what keeps us having difficulty letting it go, wrapping our heads around it and so on.

Turning her in for disability fraud is an option, and it depends on what her disability was granted for….if it was for a “bad back” and you video her out shoveling snow or jumping on a trampoline, then you have proven FRAUD, but if she is on disability for her “depression,” a video of her laughing isn’t going to cut it. I know a bunch of SSD cheats believe me, but most of them there’s no way you could prove it.

I understand the losing trust in others, but I think also we lose trust in ourselves to judge people and keep ourselves safe. Restoring THAT trust is what I am working on. Good post, Ana, I think it is something we all deal with.

Sky, I have banned sociopaths and psychopaths and all other creatures of such like from the earth many times and the powers that be don’t listen to me, so I think I will just throw down my queen crown and my dictator’s stick and just go back to being an opinionated and crusty old woman! Does about as much good. LOL


What an interesting conversation/debate with Blogger that you had.

It is true and I would agree that they are “human” in the sense that they walk, talk, share the same oxygenated air, in other words they are capable of the basic human functions. Like any other human being. But I think one needs to be VERY careful how to characterize a “human” being when personality disordered. The basic sentence “Well we’re all human”, true. We ALL are human, however that basic sentence implies to me from my perspective that we are all infallible,that we all FEEL something, that we are all going to make mistakes….but those things cannot be applied to a S/P/N.

I think characterizing them as people with HUGE mental disabilities/illness is more accurate. It doesn’t mean they should be treated INHUMANELY (even though no one of here was given that benefit), but I do think SOMETHING needs to be done so that there is a reduction if not a separation from society at large given all the lives destroyed, finances obliterated, hearts irretrievably broken. They are also potentially murderous, even if not directly have driven victims to suicide, a genuine societal menace and there are far too many of them. So should we shift the sands a bit and say they are “human” in that they are made up of flesh and blood and merely exist physically and call them INHUMANE for the horrendous treatments many of us have received. I guess we could go on this forever, but just some thoughts.

Dear Lesson learned,

I think that is what it is. Saadam for example, or Hitler, or Mao, were responsible for all sorts of horrible killings and torture, and I truly believe that each of them were psychopaths, without empathy and actually enjoyed the suffering of others in addition to DE-humanizing whole groups of people so that they could be destroyed like fleas. What they DID was not “human” in the terms of what we think of as humane, but though flawed, their thinking and behavior was inhumane, brutal, horrible, beyond horrible.

Their power over their “subjects” was almost total though, and sometimes people who are even “normal,” when given great power start to behave like a psychopath. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” So maybe they were just “power mad” not “true” psychopaths, but we know that their behavior was in our view EVIL.

Behavior though, depending on how you view it, is “good” or “evil” depending on your point of view. The 9-11 terrorists thought that what they were doing was GOOD, but we see it as the ultimate EVIL. Were they “psychopaths” or zealots?

The cult-like indoctrination of the various religious extremists of all faiths and beliefs is “mind control” or “trauma bonding” at its best. Sometimes cults are only 2 people, the “leader” and the “follower.” Sometimes cults are huge, and many groups that are now considered “main stream” were once considered cults. Christianity (the early Christians) for one group. Jesus was considered by the religious and secular powers at that time to be a dangerous cult leader.

Psychopaths many times can be great “leaders” and con others into following them like sheep, but not all great leaders are con artists.

There is much to learn about the “human animal” (the “Naked ape”) In fact there is a book by that name that is quite interesting. An old book, but an interesting one, none the less.

I think we went over the inhuman- human thing on another thread and came to a kind of resolution on that. I’m really not bothered by the disagreement because there’s bound to be differing opinions on that, especially depending on how psychopaths have figured into your life. I read the word “human” like “humanity” meaning empathy is a defining trait… that’s just me. I accept that other people may not see it that way ( And I completely respect your reasons for feeling that way, even though we may disagree. It can be a personal thing. ). A lot of that is semantics… what I MEAN to say- what my main point was with my post is that it’s important to distinguish TRUE psychopaths from your average jerk- which there are many of. Just like it’s not right to call your average jerk a sociopath if they’re really not, but IMPERATIVE you get them out of your life EITHER way… and IMPERATIVE in my opinion to recognize people in your past as sociopaths or just jerks. They are NOT like us, whether as you would like to label them, human or not ( of course my opinion is not human but we have agreed to disagree there ) … they are MISSING that which LINKS us together as a society.. civilization would not have been without a conscience. Even hunter-gatherer societies needed to rely on each other based on empathy

So that was my point- it IS important to recognize whether someone is a Psychopath or your average joe mcnasty ( read : jerk ) and it is a crucial step in the healing process to be cognizant of this I think, if indeed you dealt with a psychopath, just because the dynamics are completely different. Do i think joe mcnastys should be given the benefit of the doubt even if they’re not psychopaths? No. You should definetely not think twice about giving them a swift kick in the hiney when it comes to involving them in your life… however the distinction is there for a reason.

Dear Dancy, agreed!

I TOTALLY agree with that, Dancing.

I think what I’m dealing with is a true validation that my experience was real that he is a truly evil individual but that while he fits the traits on almost ever single level (Exceptoin: not criminal, parasitic), as well as the love bombing techniques on the site here of the ten signs you might be dating a sociopath (fits ALL of them according to last love bomb to a T- took her breath away!), he IS NOT an out and out criminal. At least not having been in prison, has a Bachelor’s degree and the same job and home for years. But in his personal life, absolutely wreak havoc freak. Emotional carcasses left all over the place, few if little friends. You get the picture.

The truth is, I don’t want to doubt what I saw as the honest to God’s truth. If it ISN”T the truth, then indeed he can change and I hate the POS so much, he doesn’t HAVE THAT RIGHT after all the pain he’s caused. Yep, I think I’ve stepped into the RAGE stage at this point. He’s a worthless, SPINELESS piece of SHIT! NEVER ONCE did he EVER EVER EVER express remorse or guilt over what he did in his marriages, NOT ONCE, nor now to me either.NOT ONE TIME!! IN fact it’s always EVERYONE ELSE”S FAULT!! He hates his boss, he hates his ex, he drinks like a fish, what the HELL makes me think THAT”S going to change anytime soon? He was PURPOSELY (until I caught on with what was going on,tookme FOREVER) exploitative and the things he did to me were PURPOSELY set up to hurt me, I began to think he was getting HIGH off outwitting me!! I”M SO PISSED ABOUT THAT!

He outdid me everytime, except this last time when I BUSTED his ass for lying to me, because I LOVED him! I knew KNEW I was being set up to be HURT like hell with his love bombing around, but didn’t yet know about, so I halted seeing him.I also got VERY tired of the drinking. I just couldn’t do it anymore and my spirit was such, but that didn’t mean I wasn’t STILL PLUGGED IN. This is just SO frustrating.

Yea,it’s a bad day. Doggone it!!!

I do not think they are human any more than a zombie or vampire is human. They are creatures in human form who lack the necessary equipment to be considered human. Yes, their behavior is on a scale from bad to worse but we cannot judge on behavior alone. The empty shell of love and empathy is real.

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