Press "Enter" to skip to content

Dealing with the sociopath next door (or in DC)

I’m reading The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout. The book is about how to recognize and deal with the sort of everyday monster who won’t stab you with a knife but will stab you in the back at work, cut you off at the knees in your endeavors, or be a murderously awful family member or neighbor.

Having gotten close to way too many sociopaths in my younger and dumber years, I’m well armored against the type (knock wood). Still, Stout’s book does have some good information, including reports on recent brain studies of sociopaths.

Perhaps the most useful part is Stout’s “Thirteen Rules for Dealing with Sociopaths in Everyday Life.” As I read her list, it struck me that Stout was giving good advice not just for dealing with conscienceless, empathy-lacking individuals, but with institutions, too. Especially the One Big Institution we all know and love so well.

Here are the 13 rules in Stout’s words with commentary in mine. Nothing here is meant to imply that Stout would agree with my interpretation; she probably wouldn’t. But the rules are still good, no matter what sort of psychopath you’re dealing with.


1. The first rule involves the bitter pill of accepting that some people literally have no conscience. ‘Nuff said, yes?

2. 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. And need we add police officer, district attorney, judge, legislator, minister, bureaucrat, ATF agent, or general media-annointed “expert”? They want you to see the facade, not the reality. “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you!” — Oh my!

3. 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. One pile of BS might be an innocent cowflop. Two says there’s a herd of bulls in the vicinity. Three really fresh piles says you’re going to get stampeded if you don’t get out of the way.

4. Question authority.

5. Suspect flattery. Oh, you Glorious Little People, you. They love you so at election time.

6. If necessary, redefine your concept of respect. Being terrified of somebody doesn’t mean you respect them. Or should. On the contrary.

7. Do not join the game. Don’t reduce yourself to the sociopath’s level. Don’t play his headgames. Don’t vote for him. Don’t buy into what he says should be your standards or your values. Don’t waste your life trying to figure out why he does what he does or how to stop him. Just write him off and walk away.

8. The best way to protect yourself from a sociopath is to avoid him, to refuse any kind of contact or communication.

9. Question your tendency to pity too easily. OMG, how they have used that one to get their way!

10. Do not try to redeem the unredeemable.

11. Never agree, out of pity or for any other reason, to help a sociopath conceal his or her true character. The individual psycho says, “Please don’t tell.” The government psycho says he was hiking the Appalachian trail. Or that he found WMDs in Iraq. Or that he honestly, truly believed that waterboarding wasn’t torture. No mercy for those folks. No mercy. At. All.

12. Defend your psyche. Don’t give up on humanity or freedom just because government is so overwhelmingly filled with liars, users, and control freaks. They want you to give up, to become inert, to say, “It’s hopeless.” Because then they rule. But …

13 Living well is the best revenge. Yeah. Let’s do that.


  1. Toni Reita ND
    Toni Reita ND February 26, 2011 9:40 pm

    Let’s hope that some of my former Psychopaths don’t read your Blog.

    I can add one very real tip, no make that two, well actually I could come up with my own list of 13 or more, but I’ll stop well before that.

    Notice that

    1. Psychopaths only look you in the eye when they are lying, when telling the truth, they look everywhere but in your eyes
    2 They will lie about anything and everything, like it really matters if they had Pizza or Burger & fries for lunch, but they will like about it, watch their eyes.
    3 They’ll lie about something that they know that you know is a lie. They can’t stop themselves
    4 Ignoring, diffusing and refusing to communicate is the only way that they’ll go away, sadly their radar will be looking for another victim

    Real people need real food!


  2. Eric Oppen
    Eric Oppen February 27, 2011 2:29 am

    There’s such a thing as a non-sociopoathic ATF agent? Who’d’a thunk it?

  3. Claire
    Claire February 27, 2011 9:27 am

    Toni — welcome. And excellent observations.

    I never noticed or thought about your point 1. Makes a weird sort of sense, though. Points 2&3, though — OMG! That is so true. I can’t count the number of times these socio-guys simply lied again when caught in a lie. It was definitely the pattern. Lie. Get caught. Lie. Sometimes they’d act like little kids caught with their hand in the cookie jar — but little kids who’d stand right there with cookie crumbs all over themselves and deny they were taking cookies. (“Um … I was just checking to make sure nobody else was stealing any.”) It always seemed as if they believed they could con people into doubting their own perceptions. And of course, by doing that, they “win” — which is all they care about.

    Which is, now that I think about it, one more thing the everyday sociopath has in common with the political kind. The really sad thing is that people who live with sociopaths really do come to doubt the truth of their own perceptions.

  4. Ellendra
    Ellendra February 27, 2011 9:21 pm

    I wish my brother had seen this list before he got married the first time. The woman he married was a sociopath, you wouldn’t believe some of the stunts she pulled in the courtroom. We’re still deprogramming my nephew.

  5. Lisa
    Lisa February 28, 2011 1:13 pm

    My jaw in on the floor. I lived 9 years with such a person. I left because I FINALLY figured out that the lies would never stop (among other things– the back breaking straw was one stupid, minute lie that penetrated my mind and opened it). Tips 9 and 10— very important for suckers like me to remember.

    Toni’s 4 points are valid too.

  6. Amy
    Amy February 28, 2011 11:40 pm

    I dated one for about a year…it was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. The lies, the ego, the “flattery” mixed with put-downs, the doublespeak, the theft…every human being was nothing more than a potential opportunity.

    He literally would have stolen candy from a baby. And these people naturally gravitate towards politics (among some other choice fields). It’s hard for us “normal” people to accept that some people are simply irredeemable, and completely rotten to the core–it goes against the way that most of us were raised…and my little sociopath had no issue using that against me by claiming numerous times that he was “trying to be better” when that was the furthest thing from the truth. He was so bad that he even stole from his own ten-year-old son. Thank God I got out.

    In my dark little fantasies, I contemplate rounding all of them up and sequestering them on a remote arctic iceberg and letting (their) nature take it’s course.

    Thanks Claire…I love your articles. 🙂

  7. A.G.
    A.G. March 1, 2011 12:23 am

    Um, what was the reference to the Appalachian Trail about?

  8. A.G.
    A.G. March 1, 2011 12:39 am

    Never mind, just remembered.
    There are parts of Latin America that resemble the Appalachian Trail. Perhaps he was just confused?


  9. guidette
    guidette March 8, 2011 12:04 pm

    I have been involved with a socioapath for about a year and a half.. so many lies… i was actually writing a log this weekend detailing the events of our “relationship” and i wondered as i read some of it back.. what the h*ll is wrong with you that you put up with this.. truth be told.. I am still dealing with it. It was middle of december 2010 and he beat the h*ll outta me… hit me in the face with a chair… he was drinking. I called the cops..he was arrested.. got a year probation.. with his record I cant believe that.. but I am not going to argue. My issue is I love him.. as stupid as that sounds.. I do. I am going through hell right now.. I miss him to the point that it is making me sick. I feel brainwashed. He has since moved on to another.. but claims I belong to him.. I can have no other… There are days I am afraid.. and days I am not. I have read so much about this topic…blogs.. It helps to read others stories.. I dont feel alone or crazy. Weekends are hard for me.. I usually dont hear from him over the weekends…. But Monday morning comes and there he is… calling or texting.. and I know I must learn how to ignore the calls and texts and messages… but I dont know how. Will he just eventually go away? He knows how to play me.. and ugh I anger myself cuz I fall into his traps all the time. I am so emotional and vulnerable when it comes to him.. because he knows how i feel about him… As I stated…he has moved on to someone else who he claims to be marrying… um ok.. and I wonder then why he continues to keep contact with me. I am frustrated…angry…embarassed..hurt beyond belief… depressed… I feel crazy…

  10. Claire
    Claire March 8, 2011 5:49 pm

    guidette —

    The first question is: Are you armed, trained, and ready to defend your life if need be? I know the pain is foremost in your mind right now, but knowing you can take care of yourself physically is one way to begin taking care of yourself emotionally. (Been there, done that.)

    I wish I had words that could lead you out of your hellish place. But nobody has words that powerful — well, except maybe you when the time is right. Don’t pay attention to anybody who tells you you’re stupid. (Don’t pay attention to yourself when you say you’re stupid.) You’re not stupid. You’re trapped and just haven’t yet found your path out of the maze. One thing, though. From what you write, I don’t think you really love him. I think you need him — or some emotional thing he inspires in you — the highs, even the lows. Find some purpose in your own life, separate from him, and I’ll bet you’ll soon see that “love” for what it really is — just plain old dependence and lack of self-confidence. (Sorry, don’t mean to offend — but again, been there, done that.)

    I don’t know if this will be any help at all in your circumstances. But sociopaths tend to have buckets of personal charm, right? So when they’re cruel to us, we tend to think they’re simply wonderful people with wounds that we can help heal. But that’s completely backwards. The wonderfulness is simply “bait.” The cruelty is the hook. They put on the wonderfulness solely to get us to bite into the hook — to make us helpless, to play us. The barbed hook — the cruelty — is their reality.

    I know nothing’s likely to help you right now. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to take care of yourself. Arm yourself and learn to shoot if you don’t already know how. You’d be amazed at the calm and confidence that can instill. But in any case, do something you can be proud of — learn a new skill, take on a challenge, sign up for a really tough class, start walking or running several miles a day if you don’t already, do something that builds you up, something that has absolutely nothing to do with him. It might seem completely hollow and pointless at first. But gradually … you grow.

    He’ll go away once he knows you’re too strong for him. And you’ll be less likely to repeat the same experience with some other guy.

    Good luck.

  11. Mel
    Mel June 5, 2011 2:18 pm

    Hello can anyone help me? Are sociopaths a kind of psychopath and are they really Killers? Is it in the DNA? Doe’s all it take is a few words to set them off? I remember when I went to my first day of school back in Kindergarden I had a classmate that looked and acted very strange. All I remember about her back then was she bugged her eyeballs out acted hipper screaming and running around alot and stomped her feat. acted aggressive too other children. her mother I thank was a soicopath to because I remember her smirking evilly at me and getting threating phone call from the girls mother saying that I was a brat and someone was going to kill me. she had a very bad drinking problem but every one claimed she was a good person but I thank I might of seen who she really was back then. the girls mother past away that same year from drinking to much. and later the girl had a weirded boy freind that had came to our school and started a argument with me and said he was going to kill me when I was a adult then he went away to another school. Recently I had a alumni bankwit and the girl was there came up to me and told me I was not sappost to be there and started a argument with me she always was a bully that talked about anyone behind there back and acted as though she had a gruge with me personally though out school and I never knew why. I stood up for my self and told her what I thought of her and her very rude attitude. later for the past three years I had been getting scary threating phone calls from a guy that said he was her crazy boy friend back in school and he said he was a pyschopath making death threats on the phone. he said he hated brown, hated bernette women and said he had a photographic memory and could never forget anyone he met. He told me he wanted my head and going to cut it off with a saw. he told me that he had been stocking me for years, threating my family. and he some how even got in my house though locked doors. He said that my classmate said I had called her crazy eyes back in kindergarden that was her gruge but I can’t recall ever saying that. and he said her mother ask him to come to our school and started that argument to make him angery. And who really cares about the past anyway. he said I crossed him to. so I crossed three sociopath or pyshopaths? I thank the two of them need to get over what happened in the past. So far no ones been killed and I havent had anything scary happing this year. But I can’t even prove to my Parents that he was in our house or making threats over the phone.

  12. Mel
    Mel June 5, 2011 3:16 pm

    I do belive this guy is more of a pyshopath and a pathological lair. I still can’t understand how someone could be like this and live and walk on the streets everyday have a family go to work. It’s crazy and chilling.

Leave a Reply