How To Deal With A Sociopath
By Nadia Khan
Updated October 11, 2019
Reviewer Chante’ Gamby, LCSW
So, you think that someone in your life just might be a sociopath and you're not entirely sure what you should do about it. Maybe it's a family member, a friend, or your significant other. Maybe you don't even really know what a sociopath is, let alone how to deal with one.
What Is A Sociopath?
The fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5) is published by the American Psychiatric Association and considered the authority on mental illness. According to the DSM-5, the diagnostic term for sociopathy is Antisocial Personality Disorder. When considering "What is a Sociopath," it is important to understand that what is being referred to is a pattern of behaviors and personality traits.
Diagnosing A Sociopath
The DSM-5 defines antisocial personality disorder as
"[a] pervasive pattern of disregard for and violation of the rights of others, occurring since age 15 years, as indicated by three (or more) of the following:
- Failure to conform to social norms concerning lawful behaviors, as indicated by repeatedly performing acts that are grounds for arrest.
- Deceitfulness, as indicated by repeated lying, use of aliases, or conning others for personal profit or pleasure.
- Impulsivity or failure to plan.
- Irritability and aggressiveness, as indicated by repeated physical fights or assaults.
- Reckless disregard for the safety of self or others.
- Consistent irresponsibility, as indicated by repeated failure to sustain consistent work behavior or honor financial obligations.
- Lack of remorse, as indicated by being indifferent to or rationalizing having hurt, mistreated, or stolen from another."
What To Do When Faced With A Sociopath
When faced with a sociopath, knowing exactly what to do or how to handle the situation can be challenging. However, in many cases, people who cross paths with sociopaths are not even consciously aware that they're interacting with someone with the diagnosis above. In many cases, sociopathy takes time and multiple interactions for it to reveal itself.
In a perfect world, the best solution for dealing with a sociopath would be to terminate all contact and ties with them immediately; however, this is not practical in every situation. For instance, if a coworker or professional superior exhibits signs of sociopathy, you may not be in the position to immediately quit your job or refuse to work with that specific coworker. Nevertheless, if you do happen to be in a situation where you can afford to rid yourself with the contact of a sociopath completely, you are strongly advised to do so.
If you're not in the position to get away from a sociopath, there are still certain steps and changes you can make to protect yourself. First and foremost, you should make it a point to proceed with caution during conversations. One of the most important things to understand about sociopaths is that every one of their actions is meticulously calculated for their benefit or gain.
As stated in the diagnosis of a sociopath, people with this condition have absolutely no qualms with manipulating others for their gain. Many times, this manipulation starts by probing or learning certain things about individuals via conversations. This is why always being on your guard and not oversharing or going into explicit details is always important when dealing with a sociopath.
What It Means For You
It is important to understand the nature of "relationships" as it relates to sociopaths. Based on a sociopath's lack of empathy and remorse, a true "relationship" (genuine caring, give and take, love, etc.) is not going to happen, though the sociopath may be very good at pretending. Relationships for sociopaths are simply a "means to an end."
As such they are "one-sided" and typically short term. It has been said that romantic "relationships" with sociopaths involve three stages: assessment (sizing up "prey"), manipulation (sociopath does what needs to be done for goals to be met) and abandonment (mission has been accomplished, a sociopath is done).
When you understand the nature and symptoms of a sociopath, that puts you in the best position to protect and defend yourself, many sociopaths count on people not knowing who they are; as a matter of fact, this is what allows sociopaths to have power over the individuals who they cross paths with. If more people were aware of sociopaths and the dead giveaways of their condition, sociopaths would be less successful in their quests to manipulate and cause harm to others.
Treatment For Sociopaths
People with Antisocial Personality Disorder don't often seek treatment as they do not believe they need help. Those who do seek help (or are referred) would begin working with a licensed therapist in psychotherapy.
Under no circumstances should you ever attempt to treat or rehabilitate a sociopath. It's very important for this to be said and understood. Many people who wind up forming "friendships" or "relationships" with sociopaths try to help them or be the ones to save them. This is a fool's errand and will only bring about peril and destruction.
As previously stated, the vast majority of sociopaths do not seek treatment because they truly don't believe they need it. At the end of the day, you cannot help someone who does not view themselves in need of help. Moreover, the minority of sociopaths who are interested in getting assistance for their disorder will require very specific help.
If you share a personal relationship with a sociopath, the best course of actions is to cut ties immediately. Don't try to save them.
Confronting A Sociopath
Just as you should abstain from attempting to "save" a sociopath, you should also avoid confronting them. It's very important to understand that sociopaths are very dangerous and reckless people. They are not influenced by their conscious as most individuals are. This lack of a conscious can prompt sociopaths to resort to unwanted or even violent behaviors when they feel threatened or called out for something.
If you find yourself in a dangerous situation with a sociopath or if a sociopath has harmed you, the best thing for you to do is immediately contact law enforcement. Do not try to take on a sociopath by yourself. You're not likely to win, and even if you do manage to live to see another day, you could be seriously injured or harmed.
BetterHelp is an online resource where you can talk with a licensed mental health professional in the comfort of your own home. If you believe someone you know is a sociopath, consider reaching out to one of the therapists. A therapist can provide support and professional guidance in all areas of life. This can be especially helpful in dealing with someone who displays difficult behaviors and personality traits such as a sociopath.