By January 7, 2016 95 Comments Read More →

Sociopath Control: Lessons From Economics 101 And Frogs In Hot Water


You don’t have to have studied economics to know that scarcity drives up value. A sip of water for someone parched in the desert is immensely more valuable than the same sip of water at the end of a meal at a white tablecloth restaurant where an attentive waiter refills your glass constantly. Is love any different? A single gesture of kindness or expression of love in a flowing stream of affection goes all but unnoticed. The value of that same gesture in a love-deprived environment, however, is immeasurable.

Using Love to Control

Because human beings value love, sociopaths often use love or the promise of love to control and weaken others emotionally. This happened to me and is chronicled in my book  Husband, Liar, Sociopath: How He Lied, Why I Fell For It & The Painful Lessons Learned (available via

Taking a chapter out of the “Sociopath’s Playbook,” my now ex-husband, “Paul” (not his real name), began by getting me to love and to trust him. Next, he exploited my trust as he changed my world from love-rich and positive to love-starved and negative. This gave him power over me, because it left him as the primary source of something I valued but now rarely got—affection.

Frogs in Hot Water

Why would any self-respecting, confident woman tolerate such behavior? At a basic level, I am no different from a frog, and sadly, neither are most of us. I have been told on many occasions, typically in business settings, that if a frog is put in hot water, the frog will jump immediately to safety (if it can). The frog’s mental arithmetic is pretty simple:

 Hot Water > Ouch! > Jump! > Live!

However, if that same frog is placed in comfortable water and the heat is turned up ever so slowly, the frog will stay in the pot until it is boiled to death, because the life-threatening change is too gradual for the frog to detect. In the absence of the perception of danger, the frog’s self-preservation instincts do not kick in and tell it to jump to safety. In the frog’s brain, the situation probably looks something like this:

Nice Water > Warm > Warmer > A Bit Warmer >Hot > Really Hot > Boiling > Dead Frog!

The Moral of the Frog Story

The moral of the frog story is that it’s difficult to sense changes in the environment when the change is subtle but continual. However, it does not take long for small changes to accumulate, adding up to meaningful shifts and, ultimately, profound and possibly disastrous alterations in the environment. If a company fails to sense these changes, it cannot take the required actions. Eventually, the business dies.

I am no expert on frogs, but if the frog is anything like me, it’s possible that due to the gradual nature of the change, by the time the frog senses danger, it has been too weakened by the hot water to jump out. Alternatively, the frog may want to jump, but it is being cooked on a gas stove, and the frog is not sure that it can clear the flames as it tries to reach safety. Similarly, the most dangerous time for someone trying to escape an abusive relationship is when that person actually tries to leave.

Hence, the question, “Why didn’t you just leave?” is insultingly ignorant. In either case, maybe the frog wants to get to safety but cannot. It may need help if it is going to survive. Someone must either turn off the stove or reach in and pull the frog out of the pot. If not, the frog knows it is weak and in danger but must resign itself to a terrible fate. This echoes the sense of helplessness many emotionally and/or physically battered men and women feel, and it is among the many reasons why it is so hard for them to leave abusive relationships. I understand it now, because, due to my relationship with Paul, I am one of those women.

But the Frog Habitat Looked So Perfect

To make matters worse, you can probably get the frog to jump willingly and happily into a pot of comfortable water if it is disguised to look exactly like the perfect frog habitat, complete with everything the frog needs for its long-term survival and well-being (food, a mate, shelter, nice temperature, and so on). Should the frog have known better than to pick a habitat that looked so perfect? Is the frog weak and pathetic to have stayed as the environment changed, even if there was no conscious perception of the changes until the frog was too weak to leave? Did the frog really choose to stay in such a toxic environment if it was unaware of the toxicity?

I pose these questions, because if, as someone hears my story or your story, we are dismissed as pathetic or weak, then that person is making the assumption that it could never happen to them (assuming they do not think of themselves as pathetic or weak). But this would be a mistake.

Beware–Sociopaths are Skilled Actors

Sociopaths are accomplished actors, and the real world is their stage. Sociopaths are that good at masking who they are and playing whatever role is required to get what they want, including a long-term marriage to provide a warm, cozy home base and the illusion of normalcy.

TV stories about sociopaths make such compelling drama, because virtually no one suspects ahead of time what these individuals really are. But if experts are right, that between one and four percent of humans are sociopaths, then our only defense against falling into a sociopath’s trap is to understand the prevalence of sociopaths in our everyday lives, to be wary of the subtle signs, and to understand what aspects of our humanity they are using against us.

Identifying names, places, events, characteristics, etc. that I discuss here and in my book have been altered to protect the identity of everyone involved.

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95 Comments on "Sociopath Control: Lessons From Economics 101 And Frogs In Hot Water"

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Hi becomingstrong,

Yes, that’s just it isn’t it? We TRY to understand what CANNOT be understood by we mere mortals.

I too, go back and forth like that, as well. Why does my SP son do this? Why does he do that? How can he possibly think that there is nothing wrong with him ? Why is he even a SP??

I think that we have to keep talking to ourselves. Telling ourselves that we are wonderful loving worthy people. That has been lost to us because we lived in the f’ed up world with a SP for so long.

It is not our fault. We cannot help or change them.

We may also need to let certain people just ‘go’. People who refuse to see or are in denial about the SP.

It is possible to go on and like a full and happy life. I talk to myself every day and make it happen. Day by day. Easy to say, I know, but for our own survival, it is a MUST. We only have this one life and we are in control of making it what we want it to be.

You may have been slow cooked, but girl, you are DONE! Done with the SP!!

Love your line, “you may have been slow cooked,but girl,you are done! Done with the SP!!” I’m done but like most SP’s your done when they say your done. Yes we spend our time trying to read tealeaves. Their word salad, lies, and false impressions they create. My SP is on the verge of having no career, yes no career. A career he “professed” to be all important to him. A career I know realize was just a rouse to further abandon and neglect and torture me over. A career, if he continues on the path he his taking, will not be an option. I do scratch my head. Okay I more than scratch my head over that one. I am in awe that he his willingly self destructing rather than give me my divorce. Is it stupidity? Is it just being obstinate? Or a combination of the two? The question goes round and round in my mind, “Why is he willingly throwing away his career (btw I believe he has crossed the line already) to keep this divorce from happening? Does he not see what the consequence could be, no career, or does he just not care?” The answer to this question does haunt me as I think the answer holds some kind of answer to my future life and whether I will be free of him. Thanks Bev

I hear that!

Same thing with my son…career wise. I think is is all imploding on him, now. He is losing interest because it no longer serves the purpose of isolating himself from the family that he supposedly wanted and created. So that he could look like everyone else. He always professed to love his photography business…but it is going downhill now since his ex threw him out. I never really believed that he loved it, though. It was merely a way to be away (escape) from his wife and children, that he said he wanted, but it all got too real and I dare say, boring, for him. Instead, escape into other peoples’ weddings, and families, and good times. Perhaps gauge their emotions in the photos so as to mirror them? Who knows.

Yes, you are DONE, but the SP perhaps NEVER is done with you. You cannot take that sickness on, though. YOU ARE DONE. You have the control over you, that asshole does not.

I guess that is what I meant 🙂

What was his career, if you don’t mind me asking?

I sometimes wonder if these SPs choose certain careers based on not only how they want to appear, but on the boredom factor, and it’s ability to let them be the freaks that they are in whatever way that presents itself.

Interesting insight that the career is just an excuse to neglect and abandon the family. My husband is a doctor. He worked insane hours (almost twice as many hours than the average for his colleagues). He would take up others shifts repeatedly. I used to tell him he was leaving the impression we were in debt or I was out spending him blind (“poor him, he had to work himself to death for that wife of his”). Now he is at risk of losing it all. He could very well lose his license. Then what? He has no family to rely on, or even friends for that matter. I know they think they are omnipotent but this really takes the cake to be in that amount of denial. He thinks I’m going to save him all the while publicly stating he wants to be divorced it’s me.
How is your son going to support himself? What does he think will happen to his new victim of he’s broke?

Yes, I absolutely think that they choose careers based on how isolating they will be from their personal interpersonal relationships WHILE at the same time, at their career, having many superficial interpersonal relationships with OTHER people who have no chance of REALLY getting to know the SP. Boy, that was a long sentence! Sorry 🙂

Only family who live with them REALLY know and observe firsthand the traits that they can’t help but exhibit. The mask slips long term. If they spend too long with anyone, their oddness is revealed, I think.

My son’s photography is a sideline career. He also has a ‘real’ job working for a custom log home builder. Not sure what he does there, but it is hard to believe he has remained there for so long (about 8 years I believe) because of all of the time he has missed, according to his ex. He works full time there, and then weekends doing photography.

When he was young, and still lived with us, he isolated himself ALL of the time, and I am not embellishing. He seemed to detest being around my husband and / or myself, preferring instead, to stay in his own room almost 100% of the time. He came out for meals and bathroom time.

How strange is that? I do not remember one good time with him. No Christmases no Halloweens…he would just get in trouble so that he could be sent to his room…wow. Writing it down makes it all the weirder…


It helps writing down these events. We become so used to the abnormal that we lose sight of reality sometimes. It’s also interesting that you point out there were no good times. My SP, there were no good times either. When we went on vacation (it was my planning, my grunt work) he would pick it apart. The only “good times” were when he gave me a reprieve for being a complete slave to him (Christmas was a good example of that). He never participated in any planning that way his hands were clean to criticize and pick apart.

His career doesn’t seem important, or as important as getting me. So if I want my divorce, divorce+SP=no career-no torturing me; no divorce+SP=career+torturing me.

Like your son, he has been at his job for years. Mine would never take a day off, not for anything or anybody. Now that all important job is on the line.

Different than my son, but there is likely a reason (only known to him) why he never misses work.

My son’s ex thought he WAS at work Monday to Friday, and then found out on a few occasions that it was not the case.

He was NEVER home, though. Perhaps that is why your ex SP worked as much as he could and never missed a day?

My son NEVER misses a day of work through the week (that his wife knew about anyway, as I said above) and he NEVER misses his photography sessions on weekends. (That is probably far more exciting that the log home job). He also branched into ‘boudoir’ photos…that seemed to coincide with the marriage going downhill and breaking up as well. Wonder what came first? Taking nearly naked photos of different women, or his failing marriage…OR, the photography is just an outlet to meet sexier (than his ex wife and mother of his kids) women and perhaps cheat with them.

Like I said, who only knows? We probably aren’t even aware of the depth of his secretiveness and deceitfulness.

Yes Bev they go to work to leave the wife with a lot of pressure on her. Being in the hook with kids 24/7 is frazzling and makes her either leave him or she can’t see straight. Isn’t torturing people their thing? As far as the budoire pictures what a scam. Good cover for meeting women.

Exactly. That is what I think too.

Isolate the poor wife at home with two kids. She can’t check up on you, then, can she?

Only, she finally managed to do just that, and caught him not where he was supposed to be…which was at work! Who knew where he was on those weekdays. Maybe with one of those ‘boudoir’ girls.

I don’t have kids at home but my ex used a similar method. When not together, our contact was 95% FB chat lol we lived in the same town, always got the will talk with you later (which meant FB) that way I would have to be at home cause I only have a laptop so would need to be home, meanwhile he had an IPad & was getting up to all sorts of things(sleeping with clients)Only realized this near the end though.

ON Ward, excellent article.
Paths have radar when it comes to making good predatory choices. They also have the maturity level of an 3 yr old, which I think is very key and can’t stress enough. It explains many things about the way they think. It also makes their “come-on” very dangerous, as their lack of filters and impulse control is so refreshing and can be fun and liberating….at such an enormous price to their chosen playmates. Like a child, when they finally get caught with their pants down (sometimes/often literally), only then, because it affects them, do they show authentic emotion. You will notice, it is often very child-like. I just can’t stress how important this is in spotting a path.

I can’t help but think of the movie “Big” and “Being There” when I regard the path in my life. A fake persona, not real in any sense.

“A single gesture of kindness or expression of love in a flowing stream of affection goes all but unnoticed. The value of that same gesture in a love-deprived environment, however, is immeasurable.”

This is SO very true. And paths know and target this. They test you without your knowledge of it. As I look back, it’s so obvious to me. Since I might the path in my life at work, I often wondered why he’d say or do things that could get this high level mgr fired!! You have to watch out for these red flags. I did not. I just thought it was bizarre and funny. I had just left a company where I was treated so poorly by management, I felt I’d traded a rotten oyster for one filled with pearls. He must have told me 20x how valuable I was…again, that made no sense because I had done nothing as an employee yet but try to get some training! But as he well knew, I was eating up his support and felt he saw something special in me. I was toast. I knew it wasn’t a good thing, some of the things he said to me were outrageous, asking me to go away with him for one. Really?

At any rate, yes, I, as per your superb article, got sucked in because I wasn’t getting anything even close to his flirtatious and down home plain ole earthy admiration. He liked me, he thought I was beautiful, “there was something about me” (head in hands).
And there I sat, lapping it up like a needy stray dog.

You know, I felt at one time that I embarrassed myself, but when I picture that loser as he really is, a savant enfant terrible, I realize there was not even one soupcon of reality to his complimentary, adoring behavior. And he can go suck a passy.

Perfect still reeling…so perfect.

The fact that SPs play on our very weaknesses tells a lot. Who would do that other than a SP?

And, always to get what THEY want. Not to lift us up.

Very good post.

Thx for the kind comment, Bev. *And* for suffering my grammar errors! There used to be an edit button, I thought. That would me mighty useful.

I just wanted to add that I had read here on LF somewhere that it’s common behavior for paths to say and do things that outrageously personal or revelatory to prey they hardly know. “You’ll never understand how much I enjoy our convos.” What? I’ll “never” understand…you’ve only known me 3 months. “You can do no wrong in my eyes, you know that, don’t you, don’t you?” I said “No, how could I know that??? I’ve only known you a few months!” That made him angry. He huffed and puffed. Did I think these and other things he said and did were weird? Sure. But I loved the positive attention and the candor. He made me feel like I could say *anything* to him, which to me is the most important thing in a friendship or relationship of any kind. Just being accepted and cherished for who I am. I got that rare and wonderful feeling that I could be the fun and goofy person I am and he seemed to enjoy it immensely. Would ask me to sing to him, do impersonations, etc. The cog diss was excruciating because right on the heels of the warmest, closest times, he’d disappear, physically and/or emotionally. I just thought it was a “get away closer” kind of deal as well as his having to deal with a failing marriage and career. He out and out told me he couldn’t do his job and all kinds of negative things about his marriage.

What a mess.

No worries about grammar! I know what you were saying.

They DO indeed get angry (their only TRUE emotion) when you question anything that they do or say, so, yes, par for the course.

Their lives ARE just a MESS. The convoluted cluttered minds that they have…then we have to also try and deal with all of that when they are in OUR lives…ugh.

I don’t know if this is allowed on here, but I was the victim of a sociopath a few years back and now am facing losing my apartment. My ex stole most of my savings so I am have trouble coming up with the money to move. I have a GoFundMe at setup to help defray the costs of moving. I deeply apologize if this is not allowed on here. I’m really down on my luck and desperate and feel too ashamed to ask friends and family for help. If anyone has any question or need verification of anything, please contact me. Thanks so much.

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