The series I wrote on psychopaths, sociopaths, and idiots is some of the most popular stuff we’ve had on The Art of Charm’s blog recently. But guys wanted to know more, especially about how to get rid of psychopaths and sociopaths. So in this installment, I’m going to share some more key insights into removing these destructive characters from your life.
Know that removing psychopaths and sociopaths can be very hard.
You’re probably used to dealing with reasonable, somewhat sane people. The sociopath and psychopath prey on that basic trust and credulity. They’re not reasonable or even remotely sane. In fact, even while you’re showing them the door, they’re still looking for a way to take whatever they can on the way out while destroying you in the process. So you need to just straight cut them out. Don’t give them any attention or contact. Move on with your life, even if they won’t. The psychopath and sociopath are the proverbial “give them an inch and they take a mile” types — so don’t give them anything. If you try and reason with a sociopath or psychopath, you’ve already lost.
At the risk of sounding paranoid, you might want to be cautious about who you add or what you say on social media for a little while. The digital age makes it easier than ever for sociopaths and psychopaths to stalk you. They can quickly adopt a new persona specifically for the purpose of keeping tabs on you. So unless you know someone in real life, if you’ve just recently pushed a sociopath or a psychopath out of your life, don’t go adding new people you don’t recognize on any social media.
Cutting people out is even harder if they’re relatives.
Matters get complicated even further when you’re dealing with a relative who is a sociopath or a psychopath. But don’t despair. There’s a good chance you’re not the only one who has issues with the sociopath or psychopath. They might have half the family snowed, but the other half knows exactly what you’re dealing with. So don’t be surprised if you accumulate some allies and support in pretty short order when you begin distancing yourself from a psychopath or sociopath in the family.
Completely cutting a psychopathic or sociopathic relative out of your life can, however, be a fool’s errand. The chances are often slim. But if you can’t completely cut them out, you can at least radically diminish your contact. When you’re both at a family event, keep your interactions to the bare minimum required by politeness and social convention. You don’t have to give them any more attention than is necessary. Keep your conversations brief and your answers vague. When they ask how you’re doing, simply telling them “everything is great” is the best policy. You’re giving them no real information, and hearing that “everything is great” will drive them nuts.
I won’t lie: It’s going to be a little awkward at family gatherings when you run into these people. But a little bit of awkwardness is a lot better than having a sociopath or psychopath steadily ruining your life. Remember, you’re not the only one they’ve been messing with. So once you have your family allies, hang tight with them at family events and look to them for support. There will be times when you’re definitely going to need it. Above all, just try and ignore the sociopath or psychopath as best you can and enjoy yourself.
Cutting these figures out can be even harder if you work with them.
When you work with someone who is a psychopath or a sociopath, there might be only so much space to create between the two of you. Sure, you can look for a new job, but you likely can’t just quit right away. Doing so would also let the psychopath or sociopath defeat you. Why allow them drive you out of a workplace, especially if they’re the only real problem there?
The best insurance for dealing with a psychopath or sociopath at work is to have as much documentation as you can. This is doubly true when the psychopath or sociopath is your supervisor, because they have power over your work life. At this point you will probably have had enough of trying to talk to them directly. So make it official and make complaints. That’s what an HR department is for. Where communication is necessary, use email or at least have someone else there. Create some kind of paper trail or witness for all of your communication with this person.
The reason for keeping a paper trail is twofold. First, you want to be able to do some reality testing of your own. It’s so basic, but sometimes you might want to just have some record of events for your own sanity. You’ll want to reassure yourself that some of the crazy stunts your psychopath or sociopath have been pulling actually happened, because sometimes they can be so crazy that even you start doubting that they happened. (More on that in a moment.)
You also want to document your issues for your employer. Documenting your interactions will strengthen any reports you bring to HR. In turn, any HR reports will strengthen your case within the company. Documentation can mean all the difference in the world between being perceived as a gossip or a whiner and someone with a legitimate grievance. Ultimately, keeping a paper trail can save your job.
Beware of post-breakup gaslighting.
Gaslighting is the secret weapon of sociopaths and psychopaths. The term comes from a 1940 film called Gaslight, in which a man tells his wife that she’s imagining dimmed lights at night while he searches the attic. In many ways, this is precisely what a sociopath or psychopath will do to you — by making you doubt your own sense of reality. Gaslighting allows them to retain control, dictate your reality, and stay involved in your life, sometimes long after you’ve shown them the door.
Common gaslighting techniques include:
• Withholding: Here, the gaslighter pretends to not understand what you’re saying or what you mean. In some cases, they might even refuse to listen to you speak, cutting you off every time you try to raise legitimate issues.
• Countering: With this move, the gaslighter makes you doubt your memory of events. Once the sociopath or psychopath gets you to doubt your memory once, they can get you to do it over and over again.
• Blocking: Here, the gaslighting psychopath stops the conversation before it starts, directing your legitimate grievances down a blind alley. The gaslighter will also pretend to not understand why you’re raising the issue in the first place.
• Trivializing: With trivializing, the gaslighter doesn’t so much reject your version of events as diminish its importance. More than that, the gaslighter is trying to make you think that your thoughts, needs and feelings are insignificant.
• Forgetting: Finally, in this technique, the gaslighter will pretend not to remember events that definitely happened. This can be an argument, entire conversations or monumental events. They will deny that events happened in a manner so believable that you will begin to doubt your own sense of reality.
Ultimately, these techniques will get you to question your own memories and reality. And once you question your reality, you’ll be wondering if you made the right decision long after you show this person out of your life. That’s how a sociopath or psychopath can worm their way back into your life weeks, months or even years after you made the right decision to put them out of it. They’re always laying the groundwork to have you second guess yourself.
Just as we discussed with work dynamics, the best way to defend yourself against gaslighting is to keep a paper trail. You can keep emails between you and the gaslighter in a special folder on your computer. You can make special notes in your diary or journal referring back to when the sociopath or psychopath did something you want to remember for later. Whichever method you choose, create a physical record, so you can have an objective record to revisit.
Do not feed the sociopaths.
It might take a while (sometimes even a long while), but if you don’t give them anything to feed off of, eventually the sociopath or psychopath will grow tired of you. One interesting thing about these personalities is that they like the easiest target they can find. So if you don’t engage, if you restrict information about your life, and if you create the necessary space, they will eventually move on.
But what about your revenge? Don’t you deserve to get them back for all they’ve done to you?
My strong advice: Let it go. While it’s completely understandable that you’d want to get back at a psychopath, there’s no point. Retaliation will only breed more psychopathy, more drama, and pour fuel on the flames of your dynamic. Remember that your goal isn’t to get even, but to move on. And more often than not, a sociopath or a psychopath is their own worst enemy. They’ll eventually burn so many people that no amount of shape shifting is going to help them. It might be cold comfort, but rest assured — they’ll create their own karma.
While your life will only get better from here.