How to Understand and Help Sociopaths

Three Parts:Recognizing A Person With Sociopathic TraitsUnderstanding A Person With SociopathologyHelping Someone With Sociopathic Tendencies

The way sociopaths think and operate is deeply different from most of us and thus, their reasons for their violent and abnormal behaviors are vastly different from most other people. People considered sociopaths are classified as having antisocial personality disorder (APD).[1] While you may genuinely want to help someone with APD, recognize that the best course of action involves creating clear boundaries and recommending treatment.

Part 1
Recognizing A Person With Sociopathic Traits

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    Be aware of manipulation. Many who have sociopathic tendencies will often blur the lines between what is true and what is made up.[2] These behaviors may include a high level of charm and charisma.
    • They may manipulate you by over exaggerating their good qualities or by trying to sell you something that may not be all that he says it is. They may also try to stress the apparent safety of a clearly unsafe situation.
    • Feel free to say “I feel like this is manipulation, and I don’t feel comfortable with this situation.”
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    Avoid being conned. People showing antisocial personality disorder can use deceit to gain trust or to make a buck. They may be compulsive liars, use various aliases, or use cons to profit off others or just for pleasure.[3]
    • If someone seems to be sweeping you off your feet or wants you to commit to buying something immediately without having time to think it over, walk away.
    • Be wary of doing business with someone who shows sociopathic traits. They may trick you into thinking things are wonderful when they are not. Often, if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
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    Watch for aggressive behavior. Those with antisocial personality disorder tend to have a pattern of aggressive behaviors including hostility, irritability, impulsivity, and/or violence. These behaviors may be followed by a lack of remorse or empathy for people that may be hurt.[4]
    • They may be physically aggressive and want to fight, or they may be verbally aggressive and be prone to loud shouting.
    • Be careful when engaging with someone you think may have antisocial personality disorder. Guard your emotions (and perhaps even your physical body) if you fear harm.
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    Look out for a lack of remorse. Most humans feel guilty or sad following hurting someone else’s feelings. For many people with sociopathic personalities, there is a lack of remorse and perhaps pleasure in causing hurt or manipulation. They may try to rationalize their behavior or outright not care about others’ reactions.[5]
    • If you find yourself hurt after an interaction with someone yet they don’t seem to care about how they hurt you, this could indicate sociopathic tendencies.
    • If you find yourself demanding an apology or wanting a sociopathic person to take responsibility for their actions, you may need to accept that they may not be able to do this at this time. It is more important for you to accept this and move on as best as you can.
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    Watch for intense egocentrism and a sense of superiority. Many people that display sociopathic tendencies tend to see themselves as superior to others in terms of wit, charm, and intelligence.[6] They may treat others as inferior and find fault in others easily without ever finding fault in the self.
    • They may talk about the self endlessly and embellish stories or events in a way that makes the self appear superior to others.
    • They may outright consider other people inferior to themselves and live life within this mentality.
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    Recognize patterns of substance abuse. Many people with sociopathic traits tend to abuse alcohol or other drugs. They can end up going to prison because of substance use and associated actions while on substances.[7]
    • Substance abuse can look like uncontrollable use of a substance to a point that is physically dangerous, or frequent continued use over time. They may engage in risky behaviors as a result of the abuse.
    • Often, those with sociopathic tendencies grew up in a home or with a caretaker that also abused drugs or alcohol.[8]
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    Look out for repeated law breaking. Those with sociopathic personalities tend to be reckless and take many risks.[9] A person may have countless run-ins with the law, go to prison, and have a blatant disregard for rules and laws.
    • He may come up with excuses for why he behaved the way they did, and put the blame onto other people and never take personal responsibility.[10]
    • The law breaking may also be related to substance use or abuse.
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    Check for irresponsibility. Along with rule-breaking, people with antisocial personality disorder often engage in highly irresponsible behaviors. This person may engage in unnecessary risks with money, cars, business, and people. They may not follow through on custody or child support or may neglect their children.[11]
    • They may have poor work habits or not show up for work.
    • They may engage in poor interpersonal relationships, have very rocky romantic relationships, and may not learn from their mistakes.

Part 2
Understanding A Person With Sociopathology

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    Understand genetic heritability. While it can be hard to accept, as much as 50% of sociopathology can be attributed to heredity, meaning it can be passed on genetically. People with sociopathic traits are born with tendencies to act the way they do.[12]
    • Just like a child doesn’t choose to be born into an impoverished family, an individual does not chose to be born predisposed to an inability to relate to others like ‘normal’ people do.
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    Realize environmental factors. While a history of childhood abuse is present for many people with sociopathic traits, it does not represent all individuals who express these tendencies. Generally, individuals who express sociopathic traits tend to receive a diagnosis of conduct disorder in childhood or adolescence, and often express behavioral difficulties such as aggression, deceitfulness, and destruction.[13]
    • Children diagnosed with conduct disorder often have histories of having a dysfunctional family, traumatic experiences, family history of substance abuse, and inconsistent discipline within the home.[14]
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    Recognize differences in experience. While it’s easy to be upset with someone in your life that appears to have sociopathic tendencies, remember that this person does not experience the love and trust that most people experience. Imagine a life of not experiencing the butterflies of being around someone you romantically love, or knowing how to fully trust loved ones and friends. These individuals also likely do not feel the connection of friendship that most people consider ‘normal’.[15]
    • Sadly, these individuals do not even know what they are missing in these experiences, having perhaps never experienced healthy trust or love, given or received.
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    Understand what motivates the individual. Because these individuals often lack the ability to empathize with others, they tend to be invested in self-interest. They may tend to be hypervigilant in meeting their own needs, with no attachment to other people.[16] It is likely they do not have the skills to approach the world in any other way, so life is about taking care of the self and only the self.
    • Because there is no apparent benefit to helping others or treating others with respect, no action is taken to help or improve the lives of others.

Part 3
Helping Someone With Sociopathic Tendencies

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    Have empathy. While these people often are the source of a lot of frustration, pain, and hurt, remember that they are human, too. Despite these people often being very hard to love, it is for this reason they are in special need of empathy, care, and respect.
    • Don’t excuse negative behavior, but be willing to share love and compassion with a fellow human.
    • Reach out in positive ways to show that you care, like sending cards or baking cookies. Say that you forgive him for his actions, even though he hurt you.
    • Many people that grow up to show sociopathic tendencies were subjected to childhood verbal, physical and/or sexual abuse. Many experienced chaotic or unstable families while growing up, or the loss of a parent.[17] While this is not an excuse for behavior, it can allow you to have compassion on a person who has had a difficult or traumatic childhood and had to find other less-adaptive ways to survive.
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    Avoid enabling. This is especially hard if a person with sociopathic tendencies is in your family. You want to love and accept the person, but without enabling him to hurt or manipulate other people. Let the person know you are unwilling to enable his lifestyle or contribute to him hurting other people.
    • Say, “I want to support you, but I cannot contribute to you hurting other people.”
    • If the person is recklessly spending money and then cannot afford rent and asks to stay with you, be careful in saying “yes”. Housing this person may enable him to spend money on drugs or other harmful items, and may cause added stress to your life and living situation.
    • Avoid giving money to a person. If they ask for money, offer to buy groceries or contribute to rent if you feel inclined to help.
    • It can be difficult to see someone destroy their life and hurt other people, but remember that those are their decisions and you are not responsible for them.
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    Set clear boundaries in your relationship. A person may try to push boundaries or manipulate you or the relationship.[18] Let the person know what you are available for and what you are unavailable for. This will help the person realize the predictability of the relationship, and that you are unable to be manipulated.
    • Don’t allow the person to push boundaries with you. If they call late at night, don’t pick up the phone. If they threaten to kill themselves, call the police. Don’t allow any responsibility that you do not consent to in being in this person’s life.
    • Don’t let the person call all of the shots. Say “no” to any activities you don’t want to participate in or contribute to, and be firm.
    • Discourage any harmful situations, such as doing drugs, engaging in criminal behavior, or other irresponsible behavior.
    • Say, “For you this may be normal, but for me, this is pushing my boundaries. I’d rather not participate in this.”
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    Protect your own rights. People with sociopathic personality patterns may disregard respect for you and your personal rights or violate your rights outright.[19] Stand up for your rights and do not tolerate anyone treating you in any lesser degree than you wish to be treated. Remind yourself that disrespect received from someone else doesn’t reflect any lack on your part, it reflects the problems or insecurities of the other person.
    • A lack of empathy for other people can contribute to stampeding over other people’s rights. Someone with sociopathic tendencies will often display a high self-appraisal, which may lead them to believe that they can treat others as lower than the self.[20]
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    Understand your role in their life. The cause of this disorder is unknown, but biological or genetic factors may play a role.[21] Remember that although it may not be a person's fault that they are a sociopath, this individual is still responsible for their actions, and you do not need to fix those issues or damage your own life by staying around.
    • Don’t make it your responsibility to “save them” or “change them.” Recognize that change can only happen on his initiative, not yours.
    • Offer your support and encouragement to any positive activities. This may be praising, taking responsibility, or seeking treatment for drugs. Encourage things around responsibility.
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    Suggest treatment for addiction. Many people people with antisocial personality disorder struggle with addiction, mainly with substances.[22] Substance use and addiction can contribute to poor choices and increase risky behaviors. While you may not be able to do much to lessen this person’s behavior, working through addiction can have positive effects and lower overall risk.
    • There are many treatment options for substance abuse, based on need. Addiction can be treated through outpatient therapy, inpatient treatment, and residential care.[23] Talk to a mental health care provider to see which option is best.
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    Suggest therapy. Therapy can help in rewarding positive behaviors and discouraging negative behaviors. Talk therapy in which the person is able to discuss difficulties in childhood or their insecurities can also be helpful.[24] Often, people with personality disorders refuse therapy or only go when mandated by courts. In the case for people with sociopathic tendencies, therapy can be most helpful for accompanying psychological diagnoses such as anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders.
    • Empathy can be learned.[25] Through therapy, one can begin to understand and experience empathy with animals, people, and all living things.


  • Sociopaths are less prone to emotion and may use emotions against other people. It is most effective to deal with this person in terms they can understand; if you must deal with this person, don't get your emotions involved.

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