si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Recovering After A Sociopath

I’ve written about sociopaths before. It’s taken me decades to a) fully understand, b) identify, and c) get the hell away from several of them.

Having a sociopath in your life can be extremely destructive. Apt descriptions tend to be phrases like “wrecking ball” or “shit tornado”.

The core of a sociopath is this: they have no conscience. So, they can (and will) do anything, to anyone, with zero regrets. They only care about themselves.

Some examples (all from personal experience):

  • Stealing entire life savings (from you, from little old ladies, from kids)
  • Lying (to everyone – family, friends, partners, the police, judges, government investigators)
  • Putting their girlfriends in A&E (and then lying about that)
  • Manipulating (aka charming and lying to) everyone around them to get what they want
  • Frequently saying the cruelest, most guaranteed thing to hurt you
  • Cheating on you and then lying to your face about it (or just dismissing it out of hand)

Needless to say, sociopaths thrive in war zones. After the above, killing women and children with no remorse or regrets is child’s play.

The good news is, (from people who study these things) sociopaths tend to self-implode. Treat enough people badly and eventually it all catches up with you. They typically end up in jail, their lives destroyed, or worse. Karma, I suppose.

The bad news is, if you have something a sociopath wants (money, skills, power, lifestyle), they will attach to you like a limpet, and it can be very hard to get away. This means they can easily be in your life, damaging you, for years.

Important reminder: the key attribute to watch for is this – a sociopath will use pity to get what they want from you. They want you to feel sorry for them. Why? Because that’s the easiest way to manipulate someone. It’s hardwired into us non-sociopaths to respond compassionately to pity.

Anyway, this isn’t about them. This is about you. What do you do after one of these human destruction machines has come ripping through your life?

Let’s assume you’ve seen through their charm, broken ties, and – critically – made it obvious you have nothing left they could want (so they’ll leave you the hell alone). How do you clean up?

The physical stuff is obvious. Mostly it’ll be – try to recover your finances and pick up what’s left of your life.

The internal stuff – emotional, mental, spiritual, that’s much trickier.

I’ve had sociopaths in my life at various points over a 20+ year period. Here’s what I’ve learned.

It Takes Time

Some of this damage I’m still working on almost a decade later. It can take a while to see just how much you’ve been affected.

On top of that, you have every reason to be upset, to be angry, to be resentful. These people ripped your life apart, and didn’t even care that they had.

The problem is – hanging onto all this isn’t helping. Sure, it’d be nice if they apologised. Or said thank you for the countless hours your poured into their businesses. Or repaid you for your time. But listen: IT’S NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.

In the meantime, hanging onto that pain is only hurting you. You have to to let it go. Not for them. For you. They certainly don’t give a shit if you do or not.

Some Of It Can Be Very Subtle

A lot of the obvious mess is very easy to see – and thus relatively easy to clean up. Getting them the hell out of your life completely is A Very Good First Step.

What’s harder to see is the stuff that lingers on after they’ve gone:

  • Resentment – why should they have such a wonderful life when you’re still suffering?
  • Anger at the pain and damage they’ve caused and are still causing
  • Indignation at how they’re able to get away with it (breaking the law, treating people so badly etc)
  • A strong sense of injustice

It Can Be Hard To Clear

A lot of these feelings we have are very justifiable. The trouble is, while we’re focused on our “rightness” (wanting to be right), we’re blocking ourselves from letting go of this pain and truly healing.

We have to decide that our healing is more important than their suffering (or repentance, or justice). Because really, it is.

Hanging onto these non-loving thoughts about them are only hurting us. And sociopaths are lightning rods for non-loving feelings, trust me.


All these reasons are why I continuously keep coming back to love. Love love love. It’s damn hard to do towards someone who has caused you so much pain. The good news is, it’s hard because of all the crap we hang on to. Which means we’ll benefit the most by pushing through and letting all that pain go.

If (WHEN!) we get to the point of genuinely being able to hold loving feelings towards whomever has hurt us? That’s when we’ll know we’ve genuinely let go of all of our pain around the situation.

There’s a critical distinction here. Does “holding loving feelings towards them” mean we should invite them back into our lives, or otherwise put ourselves in harms way? If you’ll excuse me a little vernacular here, fuck NO.

What it means is that we have no non-loving feelings (anger, resentment, bitterness, violence, retribution etc) towards them. It means we are in a state of peace. It means we’ve healed EVERYTHING.

So, what are the thoughts and feelings we’ll commonly end up hanging onto, once these sociopaths have gone from our lives?

As is often the case, we can find these issues most simply by breaking them down into the three primary wants (plus fear)


  • Wanting them punished or to suffer
  • Wanting them to stop hurting us
  • Wanting them to stop hurting others
  • Wanting other people to see the truth about them, and escape too
  • Wanting them to acknowledge and/or apologise for the damage they’ve done

These are all forms of wanting to control others – which you can’t do, so you might as well let go of wanting it.


  • From them hurting us
  • From them taking things from us or damaging our life further
  • From them hurting people we care about


  • Wanting their approval/love
  • Wanting them to be grateful, or express appreciation for everything we’ve given them
  • Wanting recompense for our time/efforts/investment (debatably this is control too)

Wanting their approval is particularly likely if you have low self esteem (as I certainly had in the past, when I first met these sociopaths). Remember: sociopaths can be incredibly charming, and will promise the world to get what they want. They just never actually deliver on those promises. And they won’t.


  • That they’ll hurt us more
  • That they’ll take more from us
  • That they’ll stop liking us or “being nice to us” (an especially ridiculous fear)

There’s much overlap here with the three wants, obviously.

It’s important for us to identify all these thoughts and feelings, so we can work through and get rid of them.

In a way, they are further damage that has been left behind by the sociopath.

What tools you use to do this is up to you, of course. I definitely have my favourites (as I’ve discussed on here extensively). A good therapist is also always recommended (and possibly medication, if you’re really struggling). Clarity and objectivity can be incredibly difficult when you’re still inside this mess looking out and a therapist can help provide that.

Another important benefit of this work? The more of these feelings we let go of, the less influence the sociopath will have over us. Why? Because the less emotional resonance we have, the less they are able to push our buttons and manipulate us.

By healing ourselves we start to inoculate ourselves against sociopaths.

So, not only will we feel better in the short term, we’re protecting ourselves in the long term. Both goals that are well worth the effort.


    Two Great Quotes from Thoreau’s Walden

    I recently finished Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s most famous work, about the delights of living a simple life. Two quotes I found particularly notable:

    I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; new, universal, and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around and within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them.


    Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed and in such desperate enterprises? If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer?

    Words I had, quite coincidentally, been living by for some time now.


      Motivations for an Unusual Life

      When I was in my mid 30’s, I went with a friend, as you do, to an evening talk by a management theorist (Charles Handy, if you’re curious, a most intriguing writer).

      On the way there, my friend casually mentioned that the average life expectancy for people our age was 125-150. This is not including major medical breakthroughs. More on this later.

      As my friend continued talking, It hit me – I was going to be alive for another hundred years – not, as I’d previously thought, maybe 30. This is barring accidents, disasters and murder, obviously.

      That week, I happened to have been reading an article about global level achievers – people who could free dive the deepest in the world, lift the most weight, run the farthest, and so on. One of these super athletes said “If you eat, sleep, and breathe one thing for five years? You’ll be among the best on the planet.”

      This then led to a couple of obvious conclusions:

      1. A hundred years meant I could – if I was suitably obsessive – become a global level expert in twenty different subjects. Or raise five consecutive kids. I had twenty serious chunks of time left in my life to do with as I pleased.
      2. I really needed to sort out my (typical, same as anyone else) emotional junk. I could handle thirty years of being vaguely miserable, but another hundred was way too much.

      Around that time I’d also noticed a couple of long term patterns in my life:

      1. My net worth kept see sawing; it’d go up, then down, up even higher, then down again.
      2. Whenever I’ve started companies, they’ve done brilliant work technically, but never made much money.

      What makes the second point particularly curious is that I can waltz into someone else’s business and make them stacks of cash no problem at all. I’ve made two other guys millionaires (and would have added a third to the list if he’d used my work. Oh well, his choice). When I make investments myself (not businesses, note, investments) I typically make out like a bandit. 30% in a month or two? Often. 30k in a day? Easy. There’s just something about when it’s labelled a business that hasn’t tweaked for me. Yet.

      Given that I’ve always been entrepreneurial, I know I’ll always be starting some sort of venture or other. I started my first business before I was 10, selling toys to my siblings, ha ha, oh boy. But, I don’t want to be 95, working on a startup and struggling for income or broke. It was and is damn important to get these two issues completely sorted.


      Now, the longevity thing is interesting. It’s a tricky one to estimate. The reason being – how do actuaries figure out how long a 30 year old will live? Well, they start with the age that people are dying – currently roughly 80ish – then go back 50 years to see how many of the 30 year olds back then lived to 80, how many died earlier, and so on. It’s pretty basic math.
      The trouble with this is, you can only do this once people have actually died – otherwise, uhh, how long do you know they’ll live for? Which means the current estimates of 80 year lifespans are from people born in roughly 1930. These are people who grew up with appalling pre and post natal care, lead based paint on their toys, asbestos in their houses, drove horrifically dangerous cars, plus lived through WWII, the Korean and Vietnam wars etc. Dozens of life shortening factors, none of which existed if you were born 50 years later.

      On top of that there’s been massive improvements in healthcare, fitness, nutritional understanding and general lifestyle and safety.

      Oh, and of course the baby boomers are retiring – which means billions (literally) being poured into both quality of life improvements AND longevity. These people have watched their parents drooling on themselves in nursing homes and thought “Hell NO!” – plus, unlike the previous generations, they have the cash to back it up. The medical benefits of which will, inevitably, trickle down to everybody else.

      There are researchers claiming that the first thousand year old has already been born. Others say if we can survive 30 years, medical technology will have advanced enough to keep us alive another 30. By the end of that, med tech will have advanced enough to keep us alive another 30 years, and so on. This is what’s known as “longevity escape velocity“.

      Obviously, all these things are highly debatable, and scientists are continuing to argue.

      However, it does make estimating life expectancy all very tricky. It sure as hell isn’t 80 though. Not any more.

      Regardless, it’s essentially a moot point. If I’d been expecting to die at 60-70, and suddenly discovered I had an additional 20-30 years of life (let alone several hundred), it’s still a huge number of extra years – time that’s worth planning for and using wisely.


      As a direct result of the above discoveries, I radically shifted the direction of my life, including:

      • Moving from New Zealand to Australia to train Aikido with my sensei. In the particular style we trained, he was the highest ranked teacher outside of Japan, and had moved over a few months earlier. I figured, regardless of what it meant for my working career, training with him was a lifetime opportunity I didn’t want to miss. I ended up training with him in Australia for five years.
      • Using EFT (Reiki, releasing, and many other tools) exhaustively on every single part of my life, past, present and future. This massively accelerated my personal and spiritual growth. It also largely removed depression and anger from my life.  I do still get upset or slightly down, on rare occasion, but it’s incredibly quick to clear. Also gone are a myriad of other relatively minor emotional, mental and physical issues. I’ve been thorough.
      • Started healing in a very focused manner on career and money related issues. Hilariously, this also accelerated, for a year or two, how quickly my money disappeared, with the delightful result of basically screwing my financial life over completely. Ha ha ha, oops *facepalm*
      • Made clearing these issues the number one priority in my life, bar none (which has had some amusing side effects on my lifestyle).
      • Decided to make unconditional love, of everyone and everything, my highest purpose and primary goal in life
      • Removed several majorly destructive people from my life (including, at the time, my boss)

      AND NOW?

      As difficult as it’s been (and, on occasion – eg when explaining to prospective dates why I’m currently 43 and living at home with my folks – still is), I continue to believe I’m doing the right thing. That I have been doing the right thing.

      For one thing, it’s resulted in this entire blog. My ability to execute at work is astronomically higher too – without any specific conscious effort on my part. Plus there’s been many other unexpected benefits.

      A key question to pull this all into focus – would you be ok with struggling, emotionally and financially for five years, if it meant you could be effortlessly abundant and peaceful for the next hundred? For me that’s been a very easy question to answer, despite any difficulties.

      On top of that, I STILL see that investing the time now to get myself on the right track will save me decades of sweat, toil and misery over the rest of my life. Even if, heaven forbid I get hit by a bus tomorrow, I’m a vastly more pleasant, more peaceful, more loving person to be around than I was a decade ago.

      As ambitious as my spiritual/healing goals are (essentially – loving peace, aka happiness with no sorrow, aka equanimity), every step in that direction has been improving my life. It’s also been making things MUCH easier for everyone around me. Every step has proven to be a step worth taking, no matter how long this journey ends up being.

      As an interesting side note, what all this healing is really doing is unwinding karma (so if there is such a thing as reincarnation, that’ll be handy).

      Critically though, it means whatever I decide to do for the next 19 chunks of my life, I’ll be flying higher, faster, further and with massively less effort.

      The real question is – where to now?


        How To Spot A Sociopath

        It’s estimated that sociopaths (or psychopaths as they used to be called) make up anywhere from 1-4% of the population.

        They can be INCREDIBLY destructive to your life, and it can take years or decades to recover (in my experience). So, knowing how to spot and avoid them is a damn useful skill.

        If you have the misfortune to find a sociopath in your life, they will

        • Happily lie to you to about anything and everything
        • Take everything of value that they want (you time, money, effort, self-esteem)
        • Manipulate you in any way they can
        • Completely destroy your life without a second thought
        • Promise you the world (in the future), in exchange for giving them everything they want now

        … all while believing that their behaviour is completely reasonable, and not worrying in the slightest about what they are doing. Once they’ve got everything they possibly can from you, they will drop you by the wayside with no hesitation at all.

        I recently read an excellent book on this subject (The Sociopath Next Door), and have since realised that I’ve known several sociopaths very well indeed, both in my professional and personal life.

        First, a quick explanation. Put very simply: a sociopath has no conscience.

        This means they can do or say ANYTHING, with no regret, no shame and not a care in the world. They’ll lie as easily as breathe. If they get caught in the lie, they’ll double down and lie even further. They’ll take every cent you own and sleep soundly at night. They’ll happily have you working thousands of hours for them, and when it comes time to pay you, they’ll beg off claiming “poverty” or “hardship” (all lies and part-truths, of course). Somehow their needs and wants become the focal point of your time together. Their desires are always the thing you’re working towards – them first, you after. Maybe. (Which of course never quite happens).

        I cannot state this strongly enough:


        Generally speaking, they’re incredibly charming people (at first) – after all, it’s a key way to get people to do things for them. Once they’ve got what they want, they will just as quickly disappear… until the next time they want something.

        Where this all gets tricky is, sociopaths are very good at hiding what they are, at least initially. When you first meet them, they may seem “perfect”, charming, witty, and most commonly of all, nice. They have to be good at this. How can they manipulate you if you see right through them?

        The reason they’re good at charming people is, while they have minimal emotional depth themselves, they are highly skilled at understanding other people – their strengths, weaknesses, needs and wants. They succeed in being charming because they know exactly what to say to flatter you or make you feel great about yourself. This is all part of their game. Once they have you convinced that they’re “nice” or “wonderful”, then they can start to manipulate you to their own benefit.

        Of course, once you believe they’re “nice”, it’s a natural tendency to try and “explain away” their aberrant behaviour (violence, manipulation, lies). It’s also normal to try and help them improve their situation (after all, this is what they’re manipulating you to do – pour your energy into helping them). However, notice that they only listen to you when it suits them, and otherwise are perfectly happy to ignore (while placating) you completely. That’s because underneath it all they have zero interest in listening to anyone other than themselves.

        To a sociopath, you only exist as a way to get them what they want.

        So, what are the key characteristics of a sociopath?

        • Very charming
        • Take much more than they ever give
        • Promise the world to get what they want, then somehow fail to follow through later
        • Lack of shame
        • Things are never their fault; blame is always on other people
        • No remorse
        • Minimal emotional depth
        • Near zero empathy
        • Have a very inflated sense of self worth (they’re “obviously” better than everyone else)
        • Strong sense of entitlement
        • Often quite narcissistic
        • Often very intelligent
        • Will hurt anyone in order to achieve their goals
        • Would run over you in a bus if it made them look better
        • Can be needy, wanting you to be there for them whenever they want
        • Know how to make others think they’re the victim while actually being the aggressor
        • Can be very violent
        • Extremely manipulative

        These characteristics do differ from sociopath to sociopath. The more boxes that are ticked the more likely someone is to be one.

        [Obviously only a trained professional can provide a definitive diagnosis – I’m only telling you this to try and help you to protect yourself.]

        That said, there is one key characteristic that every sociopath has: they want you to pity them.

        The reason for this is, pity is the strongest emotional state that instinctively compels us to provide assistance. In other words, it gives them the most power over us.

        Often this pity will be emphasised in the same breath as bragging about some great achievement of theirs (no shame or empathy, remember?)

        Eg, “Oh, this work we’ve (you’ve) done is amazing, but I can’t pay you just yet, because…”

        Of course, they won’t want you to pity them all the time. You will see pity come out if you ever want anything from them (as a defence to not give it to you), or if they want something from you (to manipulate you into giving it to them).

        Another thing to watch for is lying. Remember the rule of threes.

        1. One lie may be a misunderstanding
        2. Two lies may be a serious mistake
        3. Threes lies, get the hell out of there

        Oh, and in this context? Broken or endlessly delayed promises are lies.

        Do not give your time, affection, money or work to a three time liar. Ever.

        What should we do when we spot a sociopath?

        • Get the hell away as quickly and peacefully as you can
        • Do NOT tell them they’re a sociopath. You do NOT want them angry (no conscience, remember? Which means they can and will do ANYTHING in retaliation)
        • Do NOT believe anything they tell you about changing, needing you etc
        • KNOW that they will lie, or try to make you feel sorry for them in order to keep control over you
        • KNOW that they will turn the charm up to 11 if they think it will work
        • Quietly warn others (one reason I’m writing this post)
        • Think for yourself. Sociopaths prey on people who struggle to think for themselves
        • Not all sociopaths are violent but it’s still safest to keep as much distance as possible

        Sociopaths are incredibly destructive to everyone around them. Fortunately, very commonly their lives do eventually implode.

        In the mean time, all we can do is stay aware, stay safe, and stay the hell away.


          An Odd Thing I Can’t Explain

          I’ve noticed something odd.

          The more I stay in a loving space – particularly when the people around me aren’t – the more douche bags seem to exit my life.

          Let me explain.

          Say someone starts having a go at me online. If I stay in a calm, loving space, most of the time they will simply disappear. Stop talking, block me, whatever.

          A similar kind of thing, often almost as quick, happens in real life.

          Now, on an esoteric level, it could possibly be said that our vibrations don’t match and they find this uncomfortable and so vibrate their way away. You can see a similar thing when shaking sand in a bowl; it will tend to separate out the big chunks from the smaller grains.

          Or maybe they’re just having a shitty time, and they get annoyed that someone won’t assist them in feeling grumpy.

          I’m giving them nothing to push against.

          Maybe it’s a verbal form of Aikido.

          I don’t really know.

          Either way, antagonistic, angry or generally nasty people are continuing to vibrate their way out of my life.

          And I’m definitely noticing that the more of my own crap I let go of, the more wonderful the people I find around me.

          Or maybe they were always that wonderful and I’m only just noticing.