How to Deal with a Sociopath, According to 8 Experts

Trying to deal with a sociopath can be challenging, frustrating, and pretty confusing.

People may have trouble understanding this individual’s behavior because it often does not follow what might seem like natural or rational patterns.

In this article, we’ll explore the best ways of dealing with a sociopath, according to experts.

Very strong boundaries are required when dealing with those who have ASPD

What is a sociopath?

A person who has an antisocial personality disorder is often termed a sociopath. In most cases, symptoms of antisocial personality disorder manifest before age 15 and tend to become more significant over time.

Symptoms of antisocial personality disorder include:

  • Lack of empathy
  • Abusive or unstable relationship history
  • Serious disregard for the law
  • Lack of concern for others’ rights
  • Consistent patterns of irresponsibility, impulsivity, manipulation, and dishonesty

How is interacting with a sociopath different than dealing with someone who is not?

Interacting with an individual who has an antisocial personality disorder (ASPD) can be quite chaotic due to the dual-sided personality. One side can be very charming and charismatic while—at the flip of a switch—the other side can readily manifest with abusive, hostile, and extremely insensitive behavior.

The “sociopath’s” deeply unstable inner world can lead to alarmingly aggressive and even cold-blooded behaviors.

Individuals with an antisocial personality disorder will do anything they want or need to do to achieve a personal agenda; how this affects others is of no consequence to a person with ASPD.

Tangible advice for how to handle someone who is a sociopath in your life (ex: significant other, spouse, friend, etc.):

  • Very strong boundaries are required when dealing with those who have ASPD. In fact, supportive psychotherapy is often requisite for family members or partners, given the often-intensely destructive behaviors of those with ASPD.
  • It’s important not to engage or “take the hooks” put out by those with ASPD; a nonreactive approach is required in order to manage conflict and negative repercussions.
  • Individuals with ASPD need psychotherapy but often refuse to engage in self-work as they see themselves as “superior” to those around them. And, of course, if you are in a relationship with someone with ASPD, it’s always appropriate to call “911” if any behavior is unsafe or threatening.

Dr. Meghan Marcum

Meghan Marcum

Chief Psychologist, A Mission for Michael

Place limits on the amount of time you’re willing to spend with the person

A sociopath is defined as someone who meets the criteria for antisocial personality disorder. An antisocial personality disorder is characterized by:

  • Lack of empathy for others
  • Failure to comply with social norms
  • Tendency to lie frequently
  • Tendency to violate the rights of others (which may include criminal behavior)

These people are unlikely to seek professional help for these symptoms and have a tendency to blame others or make excuses for their behavior. It makes sense for there to be challenges in trying to deal with this type of individual.

An antisocial personality disorder is not common (only 3%-5% of adults in the US) within the adult population. More commonly, there are people who display one or more of the traits associated with sociopathy, and learning to manage your response to them can be helpful.

  • Use assertive communication – If you have a boss with these traits, the best course of action is to use assertive communication. Passive or aggressive communication styles may lead to problems. The solution:
    • Clearly state what you are able to accomplish
    • Clearly state where you need guidance
    • Don’t take criticism personally
  • Don’t engage in arguments – Keep your cool and don’t engage in arguments with this type of co-worker.
  • Limit the amount of time you’re willing to spend – Dealing with a family member who has traits of sociopathy can also be stressful. You may feel like you’re emotionally exhausted after spending time together. It’s okay to place limits on the amount of time you’re willing to spend with a family member who displays these types of behaviors.
    • Consider virtual get-togethers or phone calls in place of in-person meetings.
  • Set boundaries – Boundaries around time, loaning money, or belongings are important to consider when recognizing the support or assistance you provide might not be granted back to you in return.

Related: How to Deal With Someone Who Doesn’t Respect Boundaries

  • Spend time with a healthy support system – Finally, make sure you spend time with a healthy support system to help offset the challenges that come from being around people who might be destructive to your emotional health.

Willard Vaughn

Willard Vaughn

Licensed Counselor | CEO and Managing Clinician, The Milieu Therapeutic Services

Set clear boundaries for yourself and enforce them without apology

In clinical terms, a sociopath falls under the diagnosis of Antisocial Personality Disorder(APD). According to the DSM-5, someone must have impairments in self and interpersonal functioning such that they have self-esteem derived from personal gain creating goals based on “personal gratification” and that there is a lack of empathy for other’s concerns and lack of intimacy with others.

Personality disorders, particularly those that fall within the same cluster as APD, are difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat because they are learned behaviors over a long time and are typically related to intergenerational trauma.

So, in a textbook household, you spill something on the floor, your parents tell you to clean it up, and that is the end of the interaction. In a dysfunctional household where there is abuse, poor boundaries, and/or conditional love, when you have that spill, sometimes you get ignored, sometimes you’re called stupid, and sometimes you get your head put through a wall.

This leads to a poor sense of self and little “ego strength,” which—put very simply—means your ability to be okay.

Some people choose to make up for this lack of being okay by overt behaviors that seek to get attention from others, while others seek to steal that attention, and most of the time, there is a very fine line between these types.

Ironically it was the work of Sigmund Freud that lead us to be able to conceptualize personality disorder this way. I characterize it as ironic because he was not a big believer in trauma, especially when expressed by his female clients. He believed these to be mere fantasies.

Fortunately, trauma work has come a long way since then, but the way we view these personality disorders has not.

When I was being trained not even twenty years ago, I was told that Borderline and Histrionic Personality Disorders were reserved for women, whereas men only had Narcissistic and Antisocial Personality Disorders. The truth is that many times these symptoms blend together, and there has been some talk of putting personality disorders on a spectrum within their respective clusters rather than try to differentiate.

This has not gained a lot of traction, probably because of the gender bias that exists about these disorders.

The part of APD that gets the most attention is where individuals diagnosed with this problem often fail to confirm “lawful or culturally normative ethical behavior” and their tendency to make intimidation and deceit an interpersonal style.

What is interesting is that it is not just criminals that have these traits, but many leaders of companies and politicians will exhibit certain antisocial traits, and these are seen as desirable within those contexts.

So in media and movies, we see serial killers who seem to not have any remorse for what they have done.

There may be a lack of remorse, but we find that individuals with APD are very emotionally intelligent because they often have to try harder to learn skills that come naturally to most people. Again, in an environment where abuse and dysfunction are normalized, it is usually later in life when someone is introduced to a different perspective.

By then, the brain is hard-wired to think, after many years of “look what you made me do,” that it is everyone else that has the problem.

With all of that said, the answer to the question is to not play their game. The objective for someone afflicted with this disorder is to steal energy or ego strength from someone else because they have none of their own.

Setting clear boundaries for yourself and enforcing them without apology is the best way to deal with someone who may have these traits.

This is easier said than done because these individuals need to provoke an emotional reaction in someone else, which for someone that does not have these traits, is how we connect to others.

Dr. Kathryn Smerling

Kathryn Smerling

Psychotherapist

How to recognize a sociopath

A sociopath may present as extremely charming, and you may be dazzled by the compliments that come out of their mouth. But that is never consistent.

One of the first traits that can be used to identify someone as a possible sociopath is the inconsistency in their behavior. They are either extremely positive or extremely negative, and they have the ability to rope you in as they shift between these two extremes. They have the uncanny ability to play on both your strengths and weaknesses.

Sociopaths can be predators, and people often fall for sociopaths when they have low self-esteem. Sociopaths can also appear to be narcissistic – but whereas a sociopath feels no obligation to adhere to the norms of society, a narcissist more than likely does.

Sociopaths can also be volatile, cruel, and bullying. Sociopathy is a personality disorder, and sufferers usually show characteristics by the time they are in their early teens.

Signs that you might be dating a sociopath

  • Chronic inconsistency in behavior
  • Disregard for societal norms
  • A tendency to play “the victim”

Related: How to Recognize and Overcome Victim Mentality

What should you do if you think that you’re dating a sociopath?

Break it off! I’m serious. You will never have any real lasting satisfaction in a relationship with a sociopath. Although your partner may show that they are occasionally capable of empathy, their abilities in this area are extremely limited.

They will never be able to practice empathy reliably or with consistency. You might suggest that your partner goes into counseling, and you might want to look into some counseling yourself – to find out why you are attracted to a person who will more than likely end up hurting you.

Christine Scott-Hudson, MA, LMFT, ATR

Christine Scott-Hudson

Licensed Psychotherapist | Marriage and Family Therapist | Owner, Create Your Life Studio

In order to escape a sociopath without triggering their sadistic, vindictive rage, you must go “Gray Rock”

Gray Rock is a method for dealing with anyone on the narcissistic-sociopathic-psychopathic spectrum. It is primarily a way of encouraging anyone on the narcissistic-sociopathic-psychopathic spectrum (from the average unhealthy and toxic personality disordered and emotionally unbalanced person, all the way to an extremely dangerous predator) to lose interest in you.

It differs from going “No Contact,” in that you may have to remain in contact with them to some degree, such as in the case of shared parenting responsibilities, or when your boss is toxic, but you have not yet found another job.

When going “Gray Rock Method,” you do allow some contact – but you only give boring, monotonous responses so that the sociopath must go elsewhere for any supply of drama.

You let yourself become as boring, monotone, and uninteresting as any Gray Rock in a driveway, no rock any more unique or exciting than the next. When contact with you is consistently unsatisfying for the narcissist-sociopath-psychopath, they learn to expect boredom rather than excitement and drama.

Related: Narcissist vs Sociopath vs Psychopath: What’s the Difference?

Psychopaths feel empty inside and become addicted to drama to help them feel excited and alive. Narcissists, Sociopaths, and Psychopaths cannot stand to be bored. They feed off of other people’s upsets, dysregulation, reactivity, and fear in order to feel powerful.

If you continually remain neutral and emotionally regulated in their company, then, in time, they will have to find a new person to provide them with their fuel of reactivity and drama. Eventually, they will be forced to go to others in order to obtain their toxic supply of dysregulation.

Gray Rock Method is a way of training the psychopath to view you as an unsatisfying pursuit.

It trains the narcissist-sociopath-psychopath to see you as boring, uninteresting, and as an unsatisfying target.

Practice the method of  Gray Rock, which is making yourself as boring and uninteresting as any gray rock in a driveway, with any encounter you have with the sociopath. Give boring, non-exciting responses. Remain calm.

Psychopaths, sociopaths, and Narcissists enjoy drama. Your big emotional reaction is like fuel for them, so starve them by only supplying them with neutral responses. This helps toxic people tire of dealing with you, as their supply is drama and you are no longer supplying it.

Related: How to Shutdown a Narcissist, What Is Narcissistic Abuse? 

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.

Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW

Author | Psychotherapist

To deal with sociopaths, you must first recognize their traits

Common behaviors include lying, cheating, trying to make you believe that you did what you didn’t or didn’t do what you did (called gaslighting), manipulating you to get their way, stealing from you or others and cutting corners to their advantage, trying to undercut your power, taking advantage, and having one set of rules for themselves and another for your/other people.

Unexpected behaviors including being nice (which they do to keep you off balance between bad behaviors), getting friends to do their dirty work, charming others and intentionally putting you in a bad light, love bombing (lavishing love on you to get you dependent on them), and throwing you (and your children) under the proverbial bus to save themselves.

Related: Warning Signs of a Manipulative Partner

Leave the relationship or distance yourself as far as possible from the sociopath

Understand that they will not ultimately change much. If you have one for a boss, tread lightly and watch your back. Don’t view niceness or kindness or a stop to abuse as a permanent change.

If you have one for a spouse or partner, seriously consider leaving the relationship. This may sound drastic, but it is for your own good in the long run.

Be educated

If you think that someone in your life is a sociopath, read books about them and seek the help of a therapist to support you in remaining in the relationship (if need be) or leaving it.

Dr. Fran Walfish

Frances Walfish

Beverly Hills Family & Relationship Psychotherapist | Author | Child Psychologist

Being described as charming is usually a positive and complimentary comment. And, in fact, a charming personality is a lovely quality to be gifted with. However, people who are sociopaths use excessive charm to manipulate others into believing they are good guys.

They use their slippery, slimy charm to weave a false sense of safety and trap their victims into trusting them. Then once they’ve gained your trust, they lower the boom by betraying, exploiting, using you for their own personal gains and pleasure.

This may encompass business, personal, financial, sexual, or violent gains. It can be extremely difficult to detect a sociopath. Even the most highly trained, skilled clinicians have been known to be duped by a well-oiled sociopath. Sociopaths range from liars, cheaters, thieves, to killers, and mass murderers.

The most manipulative tactic used by the sociopath is their charm. Watch out for excessive charm!

There is absolutely no difference between a psychopath and a sociopath. Only the label and diagnostic terminology have changed. The diagnostic criteria remain the same for both terms.

The primary traits of the psychopath/sociopath are that they have no conscious, no accountability, no capacity for empathy, no self-examination or self-reflection skills, and they are loaded with charm and harm. Sociopaths lie, cheat, steal, and even kill depending on where in the spectrum they fall.

Even the most skilled, competent psychologist and psychiatrist can “miss” spotting a well-oiled sociopath. If your ex is overly charming, blames you for all wrong-doings, and turns your reality upside down topsy-turvy to where you question your own sanity, turn and run as fast as you can in the other direction.

Psychotherapy will not change a sociopath. Character disorders are categorized by both insurance companies and psychological professionals as prognostically not hopeful.

The excessive charmer would need to be so terribly motivated and want to fully immerse himself into group therapy, individual therapy, and other confrontational and supportive treatments. I have never known one sociopath who changed his or her ways.

Many people can’t stop thinking about their ex obsessively to ease a feeling of loneliness. Others truly loved their ex and can’t let go. Some are afraid of getting out there again so they keep their former relationship alive as a way of staying involved and not feeling single again.

There is only one way to finally let go of your beloved sociopath ex, and that is to begin dating, enjoy the dating process, and replace your ex with someone who values you and treats you better.

The key factor is the readiness to (finally!) let go. Everyone holds on for a different length of time. Some people avoid the pain of loss and grief and bed hop by jumping from one person to the next quickly.

Others who have been deeply hurt may close the vault to their heart shut and lock it away under a key. You need to know yourself and respect your own personal timing. When you are ready to “let go” and try again, you will.

Ray Sadoun

Ray Sadoun

Medical Reviewer & Addiction Advocate, OK Rehab

Establish clear boundaries to avoid being hurt

What is a sociopath?

The label ‘sociopath’ gets thrown around a lot these days, but it is quite rare to develop a friendship or a relationship with a true sociopath. By definition, sociopaths lack empathy for others which causes them to engage in antisocial behavior without feeling guilty.

Signs of a sociopath:

  • Hurting others intentionally
  • Behaving impulsively
  • Manipulating others
  • Experiencing frequent relationship breakdowns
  • Engaging in dangerous activities
  • Struggling to keep up with adult responsibilities

How to deal with a sociopath

How you manage a sociopath depends on what role they play in your life. For example, I once had a client whose boyfriend was displaying sociopathic behaviors. He was intentionally hurting her, and when confronted, he showed no remorse.

For her, it was necessary to assess the danger of the situation and make a decision on whether or not she wanted to continue a relationship with this man.

On the other hand, if you work with a sociopath, you may have no choice but to continue your relationship with them. In this case, it is important to establish clear boundaries to avoid being hurt. This could look like spending time with different colleagues on your lunch break or not accepting this colleague as a friend on social media.

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