Why falling for a sociopath doesn’t mean you’re stupid

Image courtesy of nenetus at

Image courtesy of nenetus at

Lovefraud recently received the following email from a reader whom we’ll call “Agatha.”

Since I found your website I have been doing a lot of reading, learning, and understanding.

I made my break from my spath about three years ago. I keep reading how a spath knows who and how to catch a person in their web. Seemingly being very intelligent as to getting exactly what they want from us.

In my case, my spath doesn’t seem to be all that intelligent. Does this mean that I was taken in by a man of low intellect, and what does that say about me?

I’m having trouble understanding how a man who seems to have no common sense and lacks vision (he has been trying to sue me, but I seem to be one step ahead, so far) could possess the intelligence to fool me in the beginning.

Getting fooled by a sociopath has nothing to do with intelligence. I’ve heard from thousands of smart, successful people who were taken in by these predators.

So how does it happen? Why can sociopaths get us to act against our own self-interest? Two reasons: Our humanity, and our cultural myths.

Trust makes us vulnerable

The human race survived as a species because of trust, according to Paul J. Zak, author of The Moral Molecule the source of love and prosperity. Back when we were cave men and cave women, trust enabled us to live in groups, which enabled us to protect ourselves, which enabled our species to survive.

We are biologically programmed to trust literally. A brain chemical called oxytocin, called nature’s “love glue,” makes us feel calm, trusting and content, and eliminates fear and anxiety.

Oxytocin is released into our brains and bloodstream when we experience intimacy, and not just sexual intimacy. Hugs, empathy and even conversation cause our bodies to release oxytocin, increasing our level of trust for whomever we are interacting with.

This is all normal and natural. It’s the human bonding system.

Sociopaths as hijackers

Sociopaths do not bond like the rest of us do. They have excess testosterone, which interferes with oxytocin. And they are missing the “oxytocin receptors” that are necessary for oxytocin to work. These issues help explain why sociopaths have no empathy.

Even though sociopaths do not feel empathy, they know that they can manipulate us by taking advantage of our empathy.

Therefore, sociopaths hijack the normal human bonding system. They engage us in conversation, they appear to be affectionate, they offer emotional and physical intimacy.

Sociopaths use our humanity, our built-in predisposition to trust others, against us.

For more on how oxytocin works, read my previous Lovefraud article:

Oxytocin, trust and why we fall for psychopaths

Cultural myths

The problem with our natural instinct to trust people is that we don’t realize that we need to be very selective about whom we trust. We don’t know that there are people in the world who seem to look and act just like us, but have totally different motivations.

We don’t learn about personality disorders. If we hear about sociopaths and psychopaths at all, it’s through movies and TV shows, in which they are unrealistically portrayed as deranged villains.

In fact, all our lives we hear messages that hide the truth about the human predators among us. Here are the most dangerous cultural myths:

“We are all created equal.”

“There’s good in everyone.”

“We’re all God’s children.”

“Everyone deserves a second chance.”

“Treat everyone the way you want to be treated.”

“Everyone wants to be loved.”

“We’re all basically the same.”

The problem with these statements is that they contain the words “all” and “everyone.” Yes, they are wonderful principles to live by as long as you’re dealing with people who are not disordered.

If you are interacting with a sociopath, following these principles can lead to your own heartbreak, devastation and destruction.

Serious disadvantage

In the end, falling for a sociopath doesn’t mean you’re stupid.

It means that you’re a normal person, trusting as we are meant to trust, and believing all the cultural messages encouraging you to trust.

So please don’t be hard on yourself. Until the existence and tactics of sociopaths become common knowledge, normal, empathetic people are at serious risk of being exploited by sociopaths.


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52 Comments on "Why falling for a sociopath doesn’t mean you’re stupid"

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I am concerned that we, as readers of the topic, sociopathy, spend too much time trying to understand a mental phenomenon that is irrational in every way. The danger, I feel, is that we create and get caught up in a dizzying array of relevant but confusing data. We are so fascinated by the double bind we are caught up in. This double bind, is actually the mental maze we become lost in. In other words, our emotional energy could and should be spent in rebuilding our ego and not in draining our precious resources. Unless you expect to live forever, I suggest spending your energy developing and implementing a five year plan. Personal growth and self discipline go hand in hand. We do not break old habits by focusing on them. New habits of thought and behavior develop over time. We can affirm ourselves, over and over again. By repeating positive, inspiring and nurturing attitudes, we neutralize the embedded negativity of the past. The journey begins with stepping forward not backward. Frankly, sociopaths do not deserve the amount of attention we give them. We are the ones who really count. I learned these lessons from my own experience. I just say about the spaths, “I have been there and done that spath stuff, now I’m moving on!”

Well-said and worth repeating.

Right on, Kalina. As one friend told me once, “You can’t understand craziness.” I found that I spent a lot of time trying to “figure out” these men who blindsided me. I never could.

Where do I start. How do I begin my 5 year plan. I agree. I’m 10 days out here from my second abandonment. I got it now. I know there is no happy e ding for us. Although I am facinated and double founded to find out all these things I want to move the heck on. Do you know how to start ?

Start by NC which allows you to regain your former, happy self with your own interests (reading, music etc.), not those imposed by others.) As long as you are still trying to “figure them out’, you are still in their clutches. Accept the unexplainable for it just IS and will never have an explanation or excuse. Secondly, perhaps in you pursuit of finding your old self, you will stumble upon your ultimate salvation: finding an interest or pursuit larger than yourself (i.e Donna’s ‘Lovefraud project) which will demand all your time and energy.) This is your ultimate goal of being able to look back at it as just another thing you learned along life’s educational goal. My heart aches for you; don’t linger too long as that was my fate being the mother of 5 infected kids. We women think we can fix all things with love but this is too big a hurdle.

I think it’s important to remember, when we apply the principles mentioned in the article, that we remember to apply them to ourselves first.This is the foundation of healthy boundaries based on self-love. We cannot “treat others as we would want to be treated” if we are allowing others to treat us in ways we do not want to be treated. For example; If we are uncomfortable with the pace required to keep up with love bombing, we can say so. If we don’t cancel plans last minute with people, we should feel it is wrong for others to do so to us.

We don’t have to throw out the baby with the bath water, so to speak. These are great guidelines to apply to healthy relationships.We don’t have to move forward with a closed heart. The key is discernment and patience.

Brene Brown describes trust as a marble jar. She says that in our relationships with people each kindness counts as a marble. Over time, our marble jar with the people we are in relationships with fills up. This is how trust can safely be determined. One small act of trust at a time, and one kindness at a time. If we love ourselves, we give ourselves time to allow trust to build. Claiming to love someone, before trust, accumulated over time, has been achieved is setting ourselves up for betrayal.

It is not stupidity that trips us up. It is ignoring opportunities to learn new relationship skills that leads us to being easy targets to disordered people. Having an experience in an unhealthy relationship,is simply an opportunity to learn new relationship skills and to practice them.


Wonderful thoughts, Jacqueline! With regards to what you wrote, “One small act of trust at a time, and one kindness at a time,” it goes both ways. I think you probably meant that. A therapist years ago put it this way: In a relationship, rather than tell everything about yourself all at once, at the beginning, send up
“one balloon” of something personal about yourself, or something that’s very important to you. If he pops that balloon, puts you down or ridicules you or says something like “You shouldn’t feel that way,” for example, that’s a red flag. [In fact, in my own case — now that I’ve learned to not tell all up front- such a remark ENDS the whole potential relationship. It’s not just a “red flag.], If he accepts your trial balloon, then wait for him to send up a “trial balloon” next, hoping it’s something can accept.” Continue this way for fairly long time while you are dating.

First time posting here.
I’m in the middle of a relationship with a spath. We’ve been together for more than a year and were friends for 2 years before that. He has always flaunted that he was a “high functioning sociopath” just like Sherlock Holmes. I’ve known this for a long time but the signs never clicked that he was (or is) like that towards me. Let me first tell you that I knew not there were legitimate sociopaths at the time I met him or even started dating him. But what I’ve learned from Dearest Donna here, is that sociopaths do not like to lose. Furthermore, I was the prize for winning to him. He had chased me repeatedly for 2 years and I simply didn’t want him in a romantic way. He was perfect for me. That’s how we initially met- through mutual friends who saw that we were exactly the same person.(though, opposite because, you know I care for people way too much and he really doesn’t care about having friends at all). We were completely in love, whatever I wanted- I got. But about 2 months into the relationship we had our first fight at six flags when I made a comment about us going to a waterpark sometime in the future since we were having so much fun. He freaked out on me in public saying that I was insensitive because he had almost drowned once and hated water. He told me that story about a year ago and I really don’t have the best memory(especially when it comes to him). I’m not the best person either, and I understand that. That fight went on in a frosty silence that lasted an hour long wait in line, the bare minute of the ride, and then the 1 1/2 hour drive back home. We started yelling at each other, there was a lot of crying on my end, and once we had talked it out he said ‘I love you’ for the first time. Thankfully, In my case we don’t live together and we’re not married not do we have children. I’ve told him that he scares me and I don’t know if he knows it’s because he’s a sociopath or because our fights are really unhealthy(nothing is ever physical). He doesn’t trust anyone, especially me now because I lied to him about smoking cigarettes and hanging out with my friends. With those situations its easier to lie than to suffer his wrath or disappointment. I’ve never done anything unfaithful, but he won’t hear it. He looks in my phone all the time, texts me constantly, and I’m not allowed to have guy friends. I don’t know how I can escape him, I adore his family and I’d like to be around them. But he talks about suicide and harming himself if I leave him. We only see eachother 2 days out of the week because of our work schedules, I dont know what to do. Am I a mere victim or a trophy?

You are plainly a victim and I would urge you to go NC with him and his family. Remember, he likely got those potent genes from his family. A good relationship does not lie or provoke.

anyone who wants to control you — and surveilling your phone and saying you can’t have guy friends is controlling you — isn’t someone you should have in your life. Even if you can see how you “deserve” suspicion, because you lied to him, that doesn’t give someone the right to control you. The way to earn someone’s trust back isn’t to give up your autonomy, that’s more like giving in to them not ever trusting you. It’s also very common for a sociopath to essentially encourage lying by how they push what they want and how they react — your description sounds a lot like this is how it happened — which sets you up to supposedly have to accept that you “earned” being treated badly. You didn’t earn it, you don’t have to accept it, and — this is key — someone who really cares about you and is willing to accept you as an independent person with your own wants and needs will not *want* to control you and so won’t have that as their response. Same goes for picking on your lapses while likely counting on you to give him a pass for his.

As for the threat to harm himself, that’s more means of control. He’s taking himself hostage, and giving into hostage-takers encourages more of it and the emotional abuse that it entails.

As for whether you’re a trophy or a victim, the victims often start out as trophies. Idealize – devalue – discard is the pattern. Either way it’s being a thing to be owned/controlled, instead of your unique independent self.

Rocky, I totally agree with Flicka and Justkeepwalking. I have rule for myself, after over 60 years of being yelled at and yelling back — from my father and brother when we were kids; from several men and husbands. Now, I say to myself, and to other close people in my life: “I don’t DO yelling. If anyone EVER yells at me, I walk away and never look back.”

Also, “he talks about suicide and harming himself if I leave him.” This is a form of coercion and verbal abuse.

To those who consider making a 5 year plan, I suggest starting with your financials. Try to be objective. Try to generate options which financially make sense. Staying with your job, moving on, moving out. Make a budget and determine your priorities. First things first. You need a roof over your head, money in your pocket and decent food to eat. Most of us have more shoes, purses, and outfits to wear than we need. Clean out your closet, drawers, garage, and mind of all the clutter living with a disordered person can generate. Focus, channel your energy towards the light and leave the stinky freaky world of the spath behind you, for good! Hope this helps, Kalina.

Flicka, you mentioned “infected” kids. Please tell me what you mean by that term. I have two children, adults, who seem to have copied their Dad’s attitudes and values. Is this what you mean? I feel, as their mother, I was responsible for protecting them against toxic influences. I failed miserably and have a hard time forgiving myself. Thanks for sharing . Kalina

Dear Kalina, There are several ‘traits’ that are attributed to psychopaths (lying, superiority, life-of-the-party, unaccountability, sex drive etc.) but which I now see as genes; and these traits, unfortunately, often remain semi hidden until adulthood. I often refer to these genes as infections as they often erupt without predictability. All we can do is the best we know how and let it go.

Thank you, Flicka. I am so sorry that your children have been such a disappointment. I can empathize with your heartache. Your response suggests a strong genetic component. But, my son and my daughter were both adopted. Can I reconcile adoption with psychopathy? I feel in my case, psychopathy was learned. If it was learned and not inherited, how would you suggest I integrate this fact. Kalina

As an amateur, I do not fully know but there is a lot of professional information on the subject which you can receive from this site. love and reinforcement are powerful components. Good luck researching and reading.

justkeepwalking wrote: “They are deathly afraid of strong, openly confident women who aren’t concerned about what people think of them.” I went to several support groups for abused women (my abuse was emotional, not physical or sexual). I got strong, so I thought. But the “quality” and capability of subsequent sociopaths gave me to believe that, for some of them, the intelligent, driven, Type A personality like I became, were a challenge they had defeat. These followup men were sneakier and more subtle in their abuse than the first one was.

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