What is the best way to deal with a sociopathic person? US psychologist Martha Stout recommends avoiding him completely. Sometimes, however, that is not possible – because it is the boss, the ex-wife or your own child. Stout describes what those affected can then do in her book “The sociopath next door: How to outwit him”.
Stout was an associate professor in the psychiatric department at Harvard Medical School for 25 years, is currently a clinical psychologist in Boston and is the author of several books, including The Sociopath Next Door. It was about recognizing sociopaths – the current book now focuses on how you can best protect yourself from such people.
She has received numerous stories from patients, but also in calls and letters from those affected, for which a central question was always: What can I do? “In this book, I’m going to give you the tools to deal with a sociopath you just can’t avoid,” Stout writes. She often develops this advice along case studies, stories of people “who bravely tried to save themselves and their loved ones in a world that just didn’t make sense anymore”.
The essential identification features
But what exactly makes a sociopathic person? These are people who were born with a special disorder in the brain: a “gaping hole” in their emotional life. People without a conscience, unable to feel anything for those around them, even for their own children. However, most of them would not become murderers – not because they were held back by any feeling, but simply out of the desire to avoid ending up in prison. When a sociopath becomes physically aggressive, it usually happens at home, away from public view, toward those who are vulnerable—siblings, seniors, children, spouses.
Sociopaths are usually not immediately recognizable as such, explains the psychologist, but are so “well camouflaged that their true nature may remain undiscovered for years or even decades”. They are often excellent at faking emotions. But real compassion, real friendship and real love are excluded from them. If a sociopath marries at all, the bond will be loveless, one-sided, and almost certainly short-lived. “If his partner is of any value to him at all, it’s because he considers her his possession, which losing might make him angry, but never really sad.”
The self-esteem of a sociopathic person is dependent on personal advantage, power or pleasure, personal goals are based exclusively on their own benefit. He takes pleasure in dominating, exploiting, intimidating, or abusing others.
Dealing with unscrupulous people makes you helpless
Stout explains that finding the right reaction to this is extremely difficult for a feeling person. “Unable to measure the yawning chasm left by a lack of conscience, we are unable to discern, let alone know, the true nature of the sociopath who stands before us—or, more dangerously, sleeps beside us.” to understand it.” With our belief that somewhere deep in the soul every human being has a conscience, we are almost helpless in dealing with people who are in fact without conscience.
But there are ways to meet a sociopath – such as an ex-partner, a work colleague or the opponent in a custody dispute – explains the psychologist. One of the chapters is also dedicated to ten basic rules for self-protection.
According to Stout, one of the most important things is not giving the sociopath the desired feelings, not showing anger, fear, confusion. Because that pours oil on the fire – while a sociopathic person can quickly lose interest if there is no reaction. “Respect your emotional privacy so you don’t reward his behavior with exactly what he wants to see.”
Showing disinterest can help
The psychologist describes the immense difficulties when it comes to custody disputes with a sociopathic parent. She explains why the “kind parent principle” can become a trap and why it is better not to argue in court that the ex-partner is a sociopath. “The desire to do so is perfectly understandable, but it will not serve you well.”
Instead, you have to realize that it is very rarely about the children – the focus is usually on the partner, on causing him or her the greatest possible emotional damage. This means that he or she has a certain amount of power to put an end to this: by showing disinterest. “You can stop being angry, afraid, and therefore entertaining this callous person. Instead, they can be thoroughly boring.”
To an emotionally sane person it may sound completely insane, but being boring is also your best weapon in a custody battle with a psychopath. “Whenever he does or says something to you that scares you or makes you angry, act like you just don’t care in that moment.” Seeing that he’s frightening the other person is the main reason for wanting to “possess” the children at all.
The lack of conscience is inevitable
Stout also describes the tragedy that befalls the life of parents raising a sociopathic child. She makes it clear that the lack of a conscience is to a significant extent innate. It tells the story of an eleven-year-old boy who wanders the streets after a hurricane has passed, hoping to steal things and see the dead. Fearless, inclined to cruelty and thievery, emotionally ice cold, this is how the psychologist describes the typical development in children. They often abused their siblings.
It is important to make the parents aware of the fact that their child’s disturbed social behavior is by no means a treatable behavior disorder, but rather an unavoidable lack of conscience. This may be painful at first, but creates extremely important clarity.
For the future, the question is still open as to whether a sociopath can be treated at some point. There is at least the hope that, after all, the plasticity of the neuronal circuits in the brain is extraordinarily large. “Imagine a world where people who would have been sociopaths — shameless con men, ruthless white-collar criminals, the cruellest schoolyard bullies, family despots, and hard-nosed political leaders — were instead given medical help from infancy onwards able to form emotional bonds.”