si dawson

experiments in self-improvement

Month: November, 2014

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.


      Celebrate The Small Victories

      I recently flew from London to New Zealand.

      To say it was a disaster is an understatement. Although to be fair, I did get home safely, on time and with all my bags.

      I booked this particular flight a year ago. It comprised of two legs, from London to Sydney, then from Sydney to Wellington.

      Less than 24 hours before I flew I discovered (completely by accident) that not one but both legs had been cancelled.

      The Sydney->Wellington leg I’d been shovelled onto a later flight, which meant 11 hours sitting in Sydney airport (instead of an hour and a half).

      The London->Sydney leg was even worse. That had been changed to London->Hong Kong, with no connection between Hong Kong and Sydney.

      That’s right: if I hadn’t rung the airline, I would have been unceremoniously dumped in Hong Kong and left there. No, really.

      Ok, so, I managed to get those two issues sorted. After I waited 45 minutes for the airline to answer the phone (my 5th airline related call in two days) – and a one hour twenty minute call in total.

      When I got to the airport, I went to the wrong gate. There were two flights leaving for Hong Kong at the same time, from different ends of the airport.

      So, I had to sprint to the correct gate as they were already boarding.

      Finally, when I was on the plane the TV screen was broken (plus the one in the next empty seat), so I had 12 hours with only my thoughts for company (Argh! The Horror!). Ok ok, so I have a soft spot for watching movies on long haul flights. Oh, and I couldn’t easily move seats because I’d ordered a special meal.

      The second leg (from Hong Kong->Sydney) the screen was working (yay!) but as a consolation prize the flight attendant tipped a cup of coffee into both sleeves of my shirt (yes, quite some achievement).

      Oh, and of course there was a screaming kid most of the way too.

      Then I had to get a boarding pass in Sydney, which involved asking for directions multiple times (“Just go down the escalator – you can’t miss it!”), and walking around the entire airport twice, only to discover that the night before the down escalator had been removed, and there were no signs. At all.

      The flight to Wellington I sat next a large South African couple who alternated between complaining about everything (including things I would never have thought possible – the accent of the flight attendant?!?) and nudging me. Non stop. For two hours. I was utterly exhausted and had hoped to sleep.

      When I finally arrived, my sister was coming to pick me up. She wasn’t answering her phone and was nowhere to be found.

      To call the whole journey a cluster fuck wouldn’t be too far from the truth.

      The interesting thing though? My reactions:

      • Hearing about the 11 hour layover: a bit gobsmacked, but no real emotion there
      • Waiting on hold for 45 minutes: relaxed and happy I’d decided to get this all sorted before I went to the airport
      • Sprinting for the gate: amused at myself, since I’d been so careful not to sweat before getting on a 30 (now 40) hour flight
      • The TV screen being broken? I took the time to sleep and meditate. Very productive
      • Having coffee dumped down both sleeves of my shirt? Hilarious actually. Apologised profusely, since the attendant felt so bad (for no reason – it was both of us, really, not paying sufficient attention. Just a silly accident)
      • The screaming kid: just sent them love and forgot about it (whereupon they immediately calmed)
      • Walking around the airport twice: a bit sweaty, confused, but otherwise amused
      • The actual layover: cool actually. I decided it would be great (somehow) and it was. Got chatting to a lovely US Marine about the research paper he was writing (discussing the effects of exponential technological advancement on historical warfare theory. Fascinating stuff). He later ended up inviting me out for cocktails
      • The couple keeping me awake was hard, I admit. I was exhausted and struggling to maintain my equanimity. Eventually I got on top of it though and let my aggravation go. I looked over and realised the guy wasn’t intentionally nudging me. He was just so fat he couldn’t help it (even with me scrunched up so far over I was almost falling in the aisle). Unsurprisingly, as soon as I let it go, they stopped complaining.
      • With my sister there was a little aggravation, but really very minor. Not to the point of swearing.

      Now, I have no idea why all these things happened. To have this many things “go wrong” is very unusual for me. In fact, I can’t think of any other time in my life when anything even vaguely close to this has occurred. I do find it interesting that nothing serious happened (lost baggage, delayed connections, plane crash).

      The super interesting thing is – none of them threw me, particularly.

      Historically? This is very unusual. Typically, even a few of these things happening would have made me irritable, angry and generally aggressively petulant. Ask any of my ex-girlfriends from years back *blush*.

      So, maybe the lesson is just this: To stop and enjoy progress that is being made. That even if some things in my life don’t appear to be shifting, in general things are improving. I need to celebrate the small victories. To appreciate the journey thus far, to stop every so often (as a friend once told me) and eat the flowers.


        Are We Allowing Ourselves To Be Happy?

        Recently I’ve been thinking about happiness.

        Obviously, there is some level of conscious control involved:

        Additionally, if we choose to be loving, that’s the quickest path to feeling deeply happy in any given moment or interaction.

        The weird thing I’ve noticed is that despite years of healing, I’m not particularly happy.

        These days I’m incredibly peaceful, centred, content and mostly pretty calm – which for me are HUGE steps forward. I just haven’t felt any noticeable level of deep happiness.

        Joy? Hell yes, just not consistent happiness.

        So what’s been going on?

        Eventually, I’ve realised that I’ve had a whole list of conditions that had to be met before I would allow myself to be happy.

        While consciously I may have been choosing to be happy (and taking appropriate steps), subconsciously I simply wasn’t allowing it to occur.


        So, what next?

        I got a piece of paper and wrote at the top “I’ll be happy when…” then made a giant list. All the conditions, all the expectations that had to be met before I was “allowed” to be happy.

        (and yes, the alert among you will have noticed I’ve written about this before – but then, as with so many things, it’s not about knowing them intellectually, it’s about living them every day, in our hearts. Reminders are good, even for me. Especially for me. Also, there’s been a subtle shift. Before when I was doing this exercise it was to “get” something. Now it’s just to remove all limitations. Ie, for the sake of the exercise itself.)

        All these conditions are, of course, utterly ridiculous. But then, this is just how our brains work half (all?) the damn time – against us.

        Once I had the list, it was pretty straightforward (and as usual, quick) to just take each item back to wanting approval, wanting control or wanting safety, and simply let it go.

        Of course, this isn’t going to be a one-off task. As we peel back layers of the onion we’ll see deeper and deeper into ourselves. We’ll be able to identify more and more subtle limitations.

        The good news is, it’s a super quick exercise, and really, once you’ve got the hang of it, you could do it anywhere. While sitting at a bus stop. In the shower. While having a sandwich. In the shower with a sandwich! Just say to yourself “I’ll be happy when…” and see what your brain fills in for you.

        All these conditions are standing between you and happiness. The more you let go of, the easier it gets to make that simple choice. To actually be happy. To feel happy.

        To be honest, while I wouldn’t say I am now deliriously happy, I do feel as if several huge weights have lifted off me. I’m no longer dragging myself around quite as heavily. My soul is lighter and genuine smiles are closer and easier to reach.

        I just need to keep doing this exercise. Keep working my way down through the layers till there’s nothing left.

        Of course as with all of life, it’s a journey, not a destination. Today is better than yesterday, and tomorrow will be even better. What more can I ask?

        2017 UPDATE

        Some additional phrases that might help you dig to the bottom of what’s holding you back:

        • I won’t be happy unless…
        • I can’t be happy because…
        • I can’t be happy until…