The cable TV network NewsNation recently interviewed me for a story about why some women help inmates bust out of jail. This is obviously wrong and illegal, but multiple people have done it (See Top 10 people who helped their lovers escape from prison.) Experts generally report that many prisoners are sociopaths—this is probably especially true of those who plot escapes. So the question is, why do people who know better comply with the sociopath’s demands, including outrageous demands like escaping from prison?
In the most recent jailbreak, Samuel Hartman, convicted of raping a nine-year-old child, escaped from an Arkansas prison work detail, allegedly with the help of his mother and wife. NewsNation asked me why women would do this. Here’s the interview, although they only used a short quote from me:
The great escape: women who help inmates get out, on NewsNationNow.com
Why do we go along with what the sociopath wants?
This is an important topic. You may have been convinced to comply with the sociopath’s demands, doing things that you knew were wrong, perhaps even breaking the law. How does this happen? How do sociopaths convince you to compromise your own morals and principles, or simply go against you own self-interest, and take action that you wouldn’t normally take?
The answer lies in essence of our humanity — the power of our minds and social instincts.
There are three points about our humanity that you need to understand:
- Our minds are very powerful, and what we believe is stronger than what we know.
- Human beings are biologically programmed to be responsive to others.
- Sociopaths are experts at manipulating our beliefs and responsiveness.
Our amazing minds
Our realities are strongly influenced by our minds. How we perceive the world, the possibilities we envision, and what we experience can all be created by what we believe.
One of the strongest examples of this is the placebo effect. The standard way to test the effectiveness of new drugs is the blind clinical trial, in which some patients get the new drug and others get a placebo — something that looks like the drug but contains no medicine. The patients don’t know if they are taking the real drug or the placebo. Often, patients who are taking the placebo experience the same benefits of the drug as the patients who receive the actual medication. Research suggests that positive expectations give the placebo its power.
I saw this up close and personal. My sister, unfortunately, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease when she was 42. For years, it was hardly noticeable, but eventually she began exhibiting the involuntary movement typical of Parkinson’s patients, called dyskinesia. She enrolled in a clinical trial, took the medication, and her uncontrolled movements stopped. She thought she was given the new medication and it was a wonder drug. She was thrilled. Everyone was thrilled.
Then, at the end of the clinical trial, she learned that she’d been taking the placebo all along. Her uncontrolled movements returned.
Why am I telling this story? Because it shows the power of our beliefs. My sister wanted the drug to work. She believed the pills would help her. Her belief made the dyskinesia stop.
Believing the sociopath
When we are targeted by a sociopath, one of their primary seduction strategies is telling us what we want to hear. Why? Because we want to believe it. And when sociopaths convince us to believe them, we are easier to manipulate.
My ex-husband told me he was a successful entrepreneur, a Hollywood scriptwriter, and a decorated war hero. These were all lies, and as I look back, I can see that his claims were preposterous. But at the time, I wanted to believe that this extraordinary man, this superhero, was in love with me. So I believed him and experienced pleasure, which was the beginning of the psychological bond that I felt with him.
A relationship is a psychological bonds that makes us feel connected to another person. The bond is first established through pleasure. Sooner or later, however, the sociopath does something to create fear and anxiety in us. We may catch her lying, or he lashes out at us in rage, or after promising to show up, he blows us off.
We suffer fear and anxiety because we worry that we are losing the relationship. But surprisingly, fear and anxiety actually strengthen the psychological bond that we feel.
We want to go back to the pleasure we felt in the beginning. So we reach out to discuss the issue. We may apologize for something we didn’t do. Eventually we reconcile with our partner — and this strengthens the psychological bond again.
This becomes a vicious circle — pleasure, fear and anxiety, reconciliation. And with each turn of the wheel, the psychological bond we feel gets stronger and stronger. Eventually, it can become a trauma bond.
Human beings are fundamentally social creatures. Our need for social connections goes very deep, because it was our ability to live together in groups that enabled the human race to survive as a species. So we are biologically programmed to be responsive to other people.
One of the ways in which our biology supports our social responsiveness is through a hormone and neurotransmitter called oxytocin. Our bodies release this substance any time we experience intimacy. Any kind of intimacy will do — hugs, conversation, and certainly sex. Oxytocin makes us feel calm, trusting and content, and it alleviates fear and anxiety.
What happens when someone triggers a shot of oxytocin in us? We feel trusted, and we also feel the desire to reciprocate the person’s trust.
I don’t know how many sociopaths are familiar with oxytocin, but they know how human nature works.
Sociopaths know that the way to get you to do what they want is to show that they trust you. So they appear to be needy and vulnerable, and say that you’re the only person who can help them. Because of our human compulsion to be responsive, it can be very difficult to say no to them. They figure out how to push our buttons, and we comply with the sociopath’s demands.
If you are trauma-bonded, it can be even more difficult to resist the sociopath’s demands. A trauma bond, also called a betrayal bond, is a strong connection you feel to a person, even though you know that the person is destructive to you.
Dr. Patrick J. Carnes explains this phenomenon in his book, The Betrayal Bond. He identifies signs of a trauma bond, including:
- When everyone around you has a strong negative reaction, yet you continue covering up, defending or explaining a relationship.
- When others are horrified by something that has happened to you, and you are not.
- When you feel loyal to someone even though you harbor secrets that are damaging to others.
Understanding the pressure
You’ve probably heard of the fight-or-flight reaction: When you’re confronted by danger, you either run away or stand your ground and fight. But other reactions are also possible. You could freeze — feeling paralyzed to do anything. Or you could friend — you try to appease the abuser so he stops threatening you. Many women in abusive relationships unconsciously take this approach in an effort of self-preservation.
People who comply with the sociopath’s demands may be doing it because they’re trying to save themselves.
Anyone who has experienced a sociopaths’ manipulation knows that it isn’t easy to “just say no” to them, even when their demand is as outrageous as springing them from prison.
Our minds are very capable of believing what we want to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary. We are biologically programmed to be responsive to others — this is especially true for the empaths among us. Sociopaths are highly skilled at taking advantage of our beliefs, our natural desire to respond, or our trauma, so that we comply with their demands.
I don’t know if Samuel Hartman’s wife and mother helped him escape, and if so, why. But if they did, I would expect that they were subjected to extremely powerful manipulation, which they were unable to resist.