Re: Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life (Rule #10 - Do not try to redeem the unredeemable)

Martha Stout, PhD

Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life

The first rule involves the bitter pill of accepting that some people
literally have no conscience, and that these people do not often look
like Charles Manson or a Ferengi bartender. They look like us.

In a contest between your instincts and what is implied by the role a
person has taken on -- educator, doctor, leader, animal-lover,
humanist, parent -- go with your instincts.

Whether you want to be or not, you are a constant observer of human
behavior, and your unfiltered impressions, though alarming and
seemingly outlandish, may well help you out if you will let them. Your
best self understands, without being told, that impressive and moral-
sounding labels do not bestow conscience on anyone who did not have it
to begin with.

When considering a new relationship of any kind, practice the Rule of
Threes regarding the claims and promises a person makes, and the
responsibilities he or she has.

Make the Rule of Threes your personal policy. One lie, one broken
promise, or a single neglected responsibility may be a
misunderstanding instead. Two may involve a serious mistake. But three
lies says you're dealing with a liar, and deceit is the linchpin of
conscienceless behavior. Cut your losses and get out as soon as you
can. Leaving, though it may be hard, will be easier now than later,
and less costly.

Do not give your money, your work, your secrets, or your affection to
a three-timer. Your valuable gifts will be wasted.

Question authority.
Once again -- trust your own instincts and anxieties, especially those
concerning people who claim that dominating others, violence, war, or
some other violation of your conscience is the grand solution to some
problem. Do this even when, or especially when, everyone around you
has completely stopped questioning authority. Recite to yourself what
Stanley Milgram taught us about obedience. (At least six out of ten
people will blindly obey a present, official-looking authority to the
bitter end.) The good news is that having social support makes people
somewhat more likely to challenge authority. Encourage those around
you to question, too.

Suspect flattery.
Compliments are lovely, especially when they are sincere. In contrast,
flattery is extreme, and appeals to our egos in unrealistic ways. It
is the material of counterfeit charm, and nearly always involves an
intent to manipulate. Manipulation through flattery is sometimes
innocuous and sometimes sinister. Peek over your massaged ego and
remember to suspect flattery. This "flattery rule" applies on an
individual basis, and also at the level of groups and even whole
nations. Throughout all of human history and to the present, the call
to war has included the flattering claim that one's own forces are
about to accomplish a victory that will change the world for the
better, a triumph that is morally laudable, justified by its humane
outcome, unique in human endeavor, righteous, and worthy of enormous
gratitude. Since we began to record the human story, all of our major
wars have been framed in this way, on all sides of the conflict, and
in all languages the adjective most often applied to the word war is
the word holy. An argument can easily be made that humanity will have
peace when nations of people are at last able to see through this
masterful flattery.

If necessary, redefine your concept of respect.
Too often, we mistake fear for respect, and the more fearful we are of
someone, the more we view him or her as deserving of our respect.

I have a spotted Bengal cat who was named Muscle Man by my daughter
when she was a toddler, because even as a kitten he looked like a
professional wrestler. Grown now, he is much larger than most other
domestic cats. His formidable claws resemble those of his Asian
leopard-cat ancestors, but by temperament, he is gentle and peace-
loving. My neighbor has a little calico who visits. Evidently the
calico's predatory charisma is huge, and she is brilliant at directing
the evil eye at other cats. Whenever she is within fifty feet, Muscle
Man, all fifteen pounds of him to her seven, cringes and crouches in
fear and feline deference.

Muscle Man is a splendid cat. He is warm and loving, and he is close
to my heart. Nonetheless, I would like to believe that some of his
reactions are more primitive than mine. I hope I do not mistake fear
for respect, because to do so would be to ensure my own victimization.
Let us use our big human brains to overpower our animal tendency to
bow to predators, so we can disentangle the reflexive confusion of
anxiety and awe. In a perfect world, human respect would be an
automatic reaction only to those who are strong, kind, and morally
courageous. The person who profits from frightening you is not likely
to be any of these.

The resolve to keep respect separate from fear is even more crucial
for groups and nations. The politician, small or lofty, who menaces
the people with frequent reminders of the possibility of crime,
violence, or terrorism, and who then uses their magnified fear to gain
allegiance is more likely to be a successful con artist than a
legitimate leader. This too has been true throughout human history.

Do not join the game.
Intrigue is a sociopath's tool. Resist the temptation to compete with
a seductive sociopath, to outsmart him, psychoanalyze, or even banter
with him. In addition to reducing yourself to his level, you would be
distracting yourself from what is really important, which is to
protect yourself.

The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to
refuse any kind of contact or communication.
Psychologists do not usually like to recommend avoidance, but in this
case, I make a very deliberate exception. The only truly effective
method for dealing with a sociopath you have identified is to disallow
him or her from your life altogether. Sociopaths live completely
outside of the social contract, and therefore to include them in
relationships or other social arrangements is perilous. Begin this
exclusion of them in the context of your own relationships and social
life. You will not hurt anyone's feelings. Strange as it seems, and
though they may try to pretend otherwise, sociopaths do not have any
such feelings to hurt.
You may never be able to make your family and friends understand why
you are avoiding a particular individual. Sociopathy is surprisingly
difficult to see, and harder to explain. Avoid hi/her anyway.

If total avoidance is impossible, make plans to come as close as you
can to the goal of total avoidance.

Question your tendency to pity too easily.
Respect should be reserved for the kind and the morally courageous.
Pity is another socially valuable response, and should be reserved for
innocent people who are in genuine pain or who have fallen on
misfortune. If, instead, you find yourself often pitying someone who
consistently hurts you or other people, and who actively campaigns for
your sympathy, the chances are close to one hundred percent that you
are dealing with a sociopath.

Related to this -- I recommend that you severely challenge your need
to be polite in absolutely all situations. For normal adults in our
culture, being what we think of as "civilized" is like a reflex, and
often we find ourselves being automatically decorous even when someone
has enraged us, repeatedly lied to us, or figuratively stabbed us in
the back. Sociopaths take huge advantage of this automatic courtesy in
exploitive situations.

Do not be afraid to be unsmiling and calmly to the point.

Do not try to redeem the unredeemable.
Second (third, fourth, and fifth) chances are for people who possess
conscience. If you are dealing with a person who has no conscience,
know how to swallow hard and cut your losses.

At some point, most of us need to learn the important if disappointing
life lesson that, no matter how good our intentions, we cannot control
the behavior-- let alone the character structures-- of other people.
Learn this fact of human life, and avoid the irony of getting caught
up in the same ambition he has-- to control.

If you do not desire control, but instead want to help people, then
help only those who truly want to be helped. I think you will find
this does not include the person who has no conscience.

The sociopath's behavior is not your fault, not in any way whatsoever.
It is also not your mission. Your mission is your own life.

Never agree, out of pity or for any other reason, to help a sociopath
conceal his or her true character.

"Please don't tell," often spoken tearfully and with great gnashing of
teeth, is the trademark plea of thieves, child abusers-- and
sociopaths. Do not listen to this siren-song. Other people deserve to
be warned more than sociopaths deserve to have you keep their secrets.

If someone without conscience insists that you "owe" him or her,
recall what you are about to read here-- that "You owe me" has been
the standard line of sociopaths for thousands of years, quite
literally, and is still so. It is what Rasputin told the Empress of
Russia. It is what Hannah's father implied to her, after her eye-
opening conversation with him at the prison.

We tend to experience "You owe me" as a compelling claim, but it is
simply not true. Do not listen. Also, ignore the one that goes, "You
are just like me." You are not.

Defend your psyche.
Do not allow someone without conscience, or even a string of such
people, to convince you that humanity is a failure. Most human beings
do possess conscience. Most human beings are able to love.

Living well is the best revenge.

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