Is There a Sociopath in Your Life?

To better understand sociopaths and how they can worm their way into your life, feel free to check out the movie The Heiress with Olivia de Havilland as Catherine Sloper and Montgomery Clift as Morris Townsend

Sociopaths are supposedly incurable — they have no conscience but the one thing they usually possess is a great deal of charm. They have an innate ability to sniff out vulnerability and will go to great lengths to win a person over even though others may see right through their motives. In the case of Montgomery Cliff’s character, he squandered his inheritance living the good life in Paris and when he returns home, zeroes in on a plain wealthy woman with no social graces. He knew her status before he courted Ms. Sloper. Catherine’s father, of course, was on to him but the woman so entranced with Morris’s good looks and attentions, could care less that he was poor and that his only means of getting on in the world would be to live off of her family’s resources. She thought she died and went to heaven–suddenly someone saw in her a person worthy of love. The old line, “I don’t know where I end and you begin” is a tip off that trouble is brewing.

We had a course on borderline and narcissistic personalities including sociopaths in acupuncture school. It’s important to pay attention to clues, whether it be a person’s behavior or the stories they tell. Sociopaths can be so smooth you hardly see them coming in for the kill. An individual, for example, may find herself making lunches and dinners for a person who is having a cash-flow problem. She may loan him or her her car or expensive camera, may loan him or her money which he or she promises to pay back but their bad luck always gets in the way. A person may even be accused of criminal behavior but convinces his victim of his or her innocence. So taken one can be with a sociopath, it’s hard to fathom how one so charming can possibly be taken advantage of by the one he purports to care about. A sociopath may even master crocodile tears that seem so real. “If someone sheds tears for me, they must really care,” is often not so. There is an extraordinary link on Quora that discusses how many sociopaths don’t blink their eyes.

A colleague of mine woke up to the fact that one of her patients met the criteria–he tried to convince her to get his girlfriend to marry him because he couldn’t do it himself. He also cheerfully mentioned that just before their appointment he beat up a biker who gave him the finger. He also thought nothing of bouncing checks. When confronted with such an individual, it’s a sign something is just not safe especially when manipulation and bodily harm are involved.

It’s not unusual for someone who has nothing, to go after a person who has what they lack. It could be a place to stay, free meals, borrowing of money. Even free acupuncture treatments or massages. I knew a man who just liked to hang out a woman’s house because he liked the energy there. When she saw that he started to help himself to what was in her refrigerator without asking, and when he looked in her cupboards, her antennae rose up. It’s usually the little hints that give people away. When she offered to get him a job with a friend of hers, he found a lame excuse to weasel out of working.

There’s a lot these days on Quora about how to recognize sociopaths and narcissists. It’s a fascinating topic, one that we all should acquaint ourselves with because chances are as we go through life, we will encounter at least one such experience. If a person is lucky enough to extricate his or her self from the clutches of such an individual, one thing is certain–the victim will feel deeply wounded for a long time, perhaps for years. It’s especially painful when the sociopath is a family member, even a parent. When someone you know seems to live off the good graces and hard work of others, ask yourself, “What do they give in return? What do they bring to the table except flattery or promises or just plain charm?”

A friend of mine who let go of a sociopath father told me, “I feel so relieved not to have to deal with his baggage anymore.”

In my practice, I treat a lot of patients who suffer from heart break. In Chinese Medicine, a broken heart is considered a disease. One way to prevent heart disease is to pay really close attention to the company we keep and when someone flatters us repeatedly or tries to control, ask why?

In closing, I want to share a story about an old friend whose husband died. I introduced them years ago and while there was an age difference, they were meant to be together. Several years after he passed, the friend was taken in by someone she met on line–a man who sweet talked her for months, promised that as soon as he was done with his business dealings in China, he would go to her. They would buy a house together. A year passed and still no visit. I tried to talk sense into her as did her many caring friends but she refused to listen to any of us. She, like the heiress in the movie, accused me of wanting to steal away her joy.

I received a phone call from her step daughter saying that my friend died suddenly of a brain bleed and that her life savings had been sent to a person who was associated with a terrorist organization. The FBI tried to get through to my friend but she wouldn’t listen. The step daughter, instead of receiving an inheritance, was left with a financial mess. Lonely people of all genders are especially vulnerable but masses of unhappy people, too, can be won over by sociopaths.