How do I deal with a sociopath?
December 11, 2007 3:34 PM   Subscribe

How do I deal with a sociopath that is connected to my social circle?

Someone in my social circle is clearly a sociopath. She has no concern or remorse for anyone except herself. She manipulates needy, weak, and mentally ill people into doing her bidding, performing for her, and so on. She takes special pleasure into turning these people into selfish, mean, and self-destructive individuals because unhappy alienated people are the easiest to manipulate and, to her, the most fun to watch.

She has successfully turned people against one another- and especially myself because I can see through her. How do I save my remaining friends who only see glimpses of her behavior, and therefore can't call her on it? She preys on the fact that the average person will do nothing in the face of unreasonable behavior. She is especially canny in the use of online communication. She is not only quite detailed in her cyberstalking, but she has fun convincing others that this is an acceptable way to deal with problems. It makes enjoying 21st century life very difficult!

Myself and a few others would have no problem cutting her out of our lives, but she remains an acquaintance of others close to us who only regard her behavior as eccentric. She always attends social functions, uninvited, and people complain after she's gone, yet do nothing. There are also people who see through her but they don't see how she has actually changed other friends who have become these shells. Having her connected to me, even tangentially, makes my life a paranoid nightmare! My personal attempts to talk sense into my, once, close friends don't succeed because they are in denial. They think she's fun because she lets them indulge in their childish behavior. As for those she directly influences, they are too proud to admit that they are being manipulated. What can I possibly do? (My friends and I are all in our mid-late 20's-yes, that is too old for this behavior!)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (34 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
Honey, you are ascribing witchy super powers to someone who doesn't really deserve them. Accept the fact that others in your circle do seem to tolerate or even enjoy this person but you don't have to associate with her if you don't want to. Trying to help your friends see the light about her will only make you look petty. Some things people have to figure out themselves or get burned directly and until then, shine her on.
posted by 45moore45 at 3:39 PM on December 11, 2007 [7 favorites]

I can't really help except to say that I went through something similar, and ended up just taking the first opportunity to leave town and make new friends. Good luck with it!
posted by nprigoda at 3:39 PM on December 11, 2007

Your friends will learn for themselves. Until then, insulate yourself. Live your life, and live it well.
posted by brevator at 3:44 PM on December 11, 2007

Honestly I have to agree with 45moore45 - you can control your own thoughts and behavior but not your friends', I'm afraid. Just as you see them as being "blind" to this person's wicked ways, they all have their own points of view as well and from what you say, it sounds like they probably believe you're mistaken in your understanding of her. If the situation were reversed and another friend told you that someone you really liked was horrible, would you automatically take their word for it?

Take comfort in the idea that karma does seem to catch up with folks in the long run. If this person truly is as horrid as you say, people will catch on in their own time. A person really can't play those manipulative types of games on the same people forever without finally being figured out. And because I'm on a cliche-roll right now (mmm, even better than cinnamon buns) I'd also like to add that "you can't cheat an honest man" - if she actually IS "turning people into selfish, mean, and self-destructive individuals" ... hmm ... well, I could be wrong but it just seems to me like you can't really "make" someone selfish and mean who didn't have that in them in the first place. I would hope that a 'bigger soul' would be more immune to someone manipulating them in that way.

Finally, you don't give specifics about how having her connected to you tangentially is making your life a nightmare, but could it be that working on your view of the situation might help more than working on your friends (since you've already tried and found that they don't particularly want to be "enlightened" anyway)? Sometimes just "letting go" is the only way to really deal with something. Maybe try working on accepting that you can't control her behavior or your friends' reactions, that your friends are all adults who know how to look after themselves and will just have to deal with the consequences of bad decisions they make (if indeed they are making bad decisions), and that this person really can't hurt you directly since you refuse to play her games.

Repeat after me, "I can't do anything about her but my GOD, I am SO GLAD I am not her!"
posted by zeph at 4:01 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

If she bothers you, stay away from her.
posted by MiffyCLB at 4:04 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

I'm struck by the last line -- "(My friends and I are all in our mid-late 20's-yes, that is too old for this behavior!)".
I'm starting to learn that a 'we're too old for this sort of thing' label isn't so useful, the older you get. There's no magic potion that people take in their 20s that turns them perfectly functioning adults that are never inappropriate, always eat their vegetables, and remember to write thank you notes.

You're not too old to post a grouchy rant, because your question reads like: 'I hate her, I hate what she does to my friends, I don't want to be friends with her or have my friends be friends with her. amirite?'

Keep your vitriol on the internet, because you might be want to be too old for this sort of thing. It's safer to keep it here.
posted by lilithim at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Bad mouthing someone, even someone who is clearly a crazy mofo bitch, won't get you anywhere. I know, I have one of these in my life, but thankfully she's not living with my OTHER friend anymore, so I can safely cut ties with Crazy and not risk any fallout on to other people.

Avoid this person. Don't tell things you don't want her to know to people who do speak with her. If you are regarded as Not Crazy people will probably start to notice that you don't deal with this person and might want to know why. You can tell them a short, nonhysterical version of the story "I think she's disingenuous and that she is bad for the people around her, and I choose not to expose myself to that." You should leave it there. Once your Crazy gets to the point that MY Crazy has reached, she will have approximately 1 person to talk to, and that will be herself in the mirror.
posted by Medieval Maven at 4:07 PM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

Love her.
posted by koeselitz at 4:19 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

This page is an excellent resource for the lay person to identify a sociopath. Do your best to insulate yourself from this person. Even if she shows to a group event don't talk to her.
posted by Sara Anne at 4:27 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Or, to be more direct:

It sounds as though you're being obsessive. If you don't like this person, just say so when her name comes up. Try to keep it from happening if someone actually gets hurt. Until then, calm down. There is nothing you can do about this until this person breaks the law. And going on and on about it is what we call 'being a busybody.' If you're intent on making life in the 21st century good, love her. And forgive her. No one who does wrong would do it if they knew how wrong it was.
posted by koeselitz at 4:28 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

is this, by any chance, in or around Washington, DC?
posted by parmanparman at 4:30 PM on December 11, 2007

She sounds hot!

OK more seriously--you can choose your friends, but not the friends of your friends. Avoid her the best you can without making a big deal out if it.
posted by LarryC at 4:30 PM on December 11, 2007

I'm starting to learn that a 'we're too old for this sort of thing' label isn't so useful, the older you get. There's no magic potion that people take in their 20s that turns them perfectly functioning adults

Sadly true. Plenty of people function badly, even pathologically, throughout their lives -- you'll find a surprising number of them in your personal and professional life the older you get. I used to be shocked; now I just walk away when I can, or adapt when I can't (like when I have to work with them).

Sociopaths are deeply unhealthy, and there is no way you can be involved in their machinations without having to resort to some unhealthy behaviors yourself. Keep her out of your life, any way you can, and focus your friendship and efforts on others who have also figured her game out.

Also, you will have to accept at some point that you might lose some friends in the process -- the last sociopath in my life managed to get a couple of friends to cut me off once she and I had our final break. And sure: that sucked, and I think they got suckered themselves (the last conversation she and I had, she was shit-talking one of the people who eventually cut me off on her behalf!), but at the end of the day, the only healthy, sane option was to let it go.

You can't control her. You can't control other people's reactions to her. You can only control yourself.
posted by scody at 4:33 PM on December 11, 2007

Stop trying to make your mutual acquaintances see the light about her; they need to come to their own conclusions. I know what it's like to be one of the few people who sees the dark side of someone, while everyone else loves them, and it sucks and makes you feel crazy, but if she really is a sociopath, she can get people on her side more easily than you probably can. So don't think about recruiting an anti-That-Person army.

Avoid her; avoid even talking about her. If you're at a gathering and she shows up, stay away from her and leave as soon as you can find a good out (and never say it's because she's there; that just makes you look bad). Just move away from her influence as quietly and unceremoniously as you possibly can. Others may follow in their own time, but you can't take them with you.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:52 PM on December 11, 2007

I'm not sure your friend qualifies as a sociopath.

Not unless she's engaged in violent or illegal behavior.
posted by Mr_Crazyhorse at 4:55 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

(My friends and I are all in our mid-late 20's-yes, that is too old for this behavior!)

Based on my experience, in your mid- to late-20s this kind of behavior is regrettably just getting started.

Minus leaving gatherings when she shows up (because that can be handled), what Metroid Baby said.
posted by Prospero at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2007

Oh, man, do I ever know what it's like to be sucked in by a sociopath. These 2 friends of mine (they are married to each other) who took this one friend of ours in were convinced they could help/save this jerk. We tossed sociopath websites back and forth. I deleted every email the sociopath sent but my friends kept taking the bait -- helping him move, bailing him out, driving him around because his car wouldn't pass inspection. He was a supreme user. It took an entire year of this before they said enough was enough and cut him out. And that wasn't until he had borrowed money and nearly destroyed the homes/finances of their young adult children. These people cannot change, show no remorse and when they finish destroying one friendship, they move on to others who will fall for their game.

I survived by not being in the same state, for one thing. But I just quit responding to this person's "happy birthday" emails and "what's new with you?" emails. I'm not sure how I'd handle things if I were physically in the same town. That's a tough one. It made me crazy to watch these friends of mine fall for every scheme this guy pulled on them. Finally, I just had to tell them I wouldn't speak of him anymore and they could no longer use me as a sounding board.

Metroid Baby has the answer you seek. Your friends will, one day, figure out you are serious about this and/or they will become victimized by this woman. There is not much you can do.
posted by MrFongGoesToLunch at 5:06 PM on December 11, 2007 [3 favorites]

I understand that you are concerned about the welfare of your friends, but as others here have noted/advised... there is no magical way you can FORCE your friends to see things as you see them (or FORCE your friends to take your advice about the sociopath)... Human behavior being what it is,.. some lessons are only learned the hard way, and it sounds like your friends wont "wake up" until the circle of friends is destroyed. Sad but true.. it happens in life, and it will happen to you more than once.

The best advice I can give.. is to minimize your contact with her. (or cut contact with her all together).. sadly this might mean you will also see less of your friends (unless you can find a creative way to interact with your friends at events she is sure to not attend).

If you have come to the conclusion that this type of behavior is "childish" (which I agree, it is).. and you want a more mature experience in your friendship circle.. perhaps its time to find new friends?.. ( I know that sounds harsh.. but it is one of the options you should realistically consider). Course, you could also try confronting her and calling her on her bullshit.. but the type of person she sounds like she is.. that might only make things worse (and she might try to spin it into making you look like the bad guy trying to break up the circle)... so its probably best to just walk away and have nothing to do with her.
posted by jmnugent at 5:11 PM on December 11, 2007

As others have said, be patient and let others see her for herself. If you do say something, try to be dispassionate about it and act like you don't have a grudge. I know it's hard, but people like her know how to deal with strong emotions. People who don't bad mouth her, or react to her at all are more difficult for her to manage. Trust me, this is what drives them crazy, when you don't seem bothered or frightened.

Quietly avoiding her, even if it means missing out on some functions is about as much as you can do until others see through her.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 5:23 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

"... She is especially canny in the use of online communication. She is not only quite detailed in her cyberstalking, but she has fun convincing others that this is an acceptable way to deal with problems. It makes enjoying 21st century life very difficult! ..."

Log off.

Stay logged off.

Spring, in the Northern Hemisphere, is only 100 days away.
posted by paulsc at 5:26 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

Don't know if she is a sociopath, but I have met her ilk before and think of them as Manipulators. They like to play puppetmaster, and as long as everyone goes along with their plans, they're a lot of fun to be with, so it takes a while for everyone to wise up and realize they're being used and abused.

I know it isn't much help, but I'll Nth what everyone else is saying because it's really all you can do--you have to distance yourself from this person, go on with your life, and trust that your friends will tire of her in time.
posted by misha at 5:27 PM on December 11, 2007

I agree with the person above who questioned whether your acquaintance is really a sociopath. Sociopath is a really strong label. But, having said that, I don't doubt that this woman engages in deeply reprehensible conduct and she probably deserves to be ostracized.

It seems, from your narrative, that you are unwilling to break it off with this group of friends that has fallen under her spell. If it's true that you are unwilling to break it off with them, you need to confront her, openly, with her conduct. For example: "Your habit of Googling people and trying to humiliate them with what you find is really childish." -- "I realize what you are doing, trying to manipulate John's mental illness so he will be amusing to you."

The benefit of confronting her is manifold: It will give you the satisfaction of having been strong in the face of an out-of-control manipulator and bully; it will perhaps foment a collective sense of "we're sick of this bitch," and turn the opinion of your group against the bully; it will perhaps make her more careful about her behavior (realizing that she will face a confrontation from you every time she does something crappy might actually have an effect on her conduct); it will show what the other members of the social circle are "made of," i.e., if they take her side, then you probably should dump them as friends. As I see it, if there is actually truth in what you are saying --- not just a personality clash --- then your friends, if they are quality people at all, will inevitably agree with you. If they don't agree with you, then either you are wrong about her, or your friends suck and should be dumped.

If your friends are decent people, and worth keeping as friends, and yet they take her side, then things probably aren't as crystal clear as you are saying they are.
posted by jayder at 5:43 PM on December 11, 2007

You need to have a shunning - google it up.
posted by Pressed Rat at 6:20 PM on December 11, 2007

What can I possibly do?

Nothing, because once you start trying to force other people to see it your way, you're as bad as she is.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 6:57 PM on December 11, 2007 [5 favorites]

Don't get caught up in the drama. If you really think she is being childish, ignore it, don't associate with her & especially don't encourage more drama by telling your friends how awful she is (from her POV, you are just manipulating them against her, etc). Just make it clear you aren't her friend, let people know if they talk about her or ask you that you think she's a bad influence, but basically, drop it. If your friends think she's fun and eccentric, that's their right. Be the adult.
posted by mdn at 7:07 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

She always attends social functions, uninvited,

So someone just tells her where and when the functions are, but doesn't invite her?

Echoing what 45moore45 said above, you are ascribing way too much power to this individual. She may encourage bad behaviour, but I guarantee she didn't invent it or somehow magically make your friends engage in it. And the fact that they tolerate and enjoy the shenanigans rests on them, not her.

I agree with others that what you can do for yourself is to simply not engage. However, any visions you have of rescuing your innocent group of friends from this one vile influence have been informed by one too many Nosferatu legends -- your friends are just people being people, and making choices you don't agree with.
posted by tkolar at 7:15 PM on December 11, 2007 [2 favorites]

If it's true that you are unwilling to break it off with them, you need to confront her, openly, with her conduct.

Confronting her is unlikely to be useful because it's basically impossible to "reach" true sociopaths. At best you will provide a new challenge for her to overcome. Any sort of prolonged battle is doomed to failure; you can't win against people who love war and misery. You can confront your friends though and it's pretty curious as why you haven't done so yet. Tell your friends how you feel, make it clear to them that you are deeply distressed by having to be around this person and let them know that you'll be making every effort to avoid said person for your own mental health. How your friends respond once they know your feelings is completely up to them though and this is the risk; they might sympathize and agree with you or they might decide you're being melodramatic and begin avoiding you. Still, simply sharing your feelings with them in the most forthright manner possible and laying down some terms is the best way to change the situation though you might not like the changes it brings about.
posted by nixerman at 11:16 PM on December 11, 2007 [1 favorite]

So I had this girlfriend in high school, and after we started dating a lot of my friends stopped hanging around. I didn't really notice, because I was in love and all that (plus getting laid, which is always handy in high school.)

After things turned sour, we broke up, and suddenly all my friends started calling again, within a few days of the breakup -- even though I hadn't told them. Turned out they didn't like her, but didn't want to interfere with my happiness, so they just drifted away until the relationship fizzled.

Arguably, this is what sane people do when bad people enter their lives through their friends -- they drift away until that person is gone, or forever if need be. Nothing dramatic, nothing bridge-burning.
posted by davejay at 12:01 AM on December 12, 2007 [1 favorite]

You are not her therapist, you are not your friends' therapist, and you have no power over this situation. Stop talking to her and stop talking about her. Avoid her at parties. Don't engage with the drama, as entertaining as it can be. She can't make your life a "paranoid nightmare" if you stop focusing on her. It's up to you, not her.

Get together with your friends in smaller groups so you can see them without having to deal with her. Accept the fact that your friends will have other friends you don't like. That's up to them. Learn to bite your tongue and move on. Make new friends, get new hobbies, become busy with something else.

(learned the hard way)
posted by heatherann at 8:00 AM on December 12, 2007

um, not to derail or anything, but i'm not sure the problem is with her. something in the tone of your complaint indicates to me that there is a lot more to this story then what you are telling us. you make a lot of generalizations, but don't mention anything specific ... and a lot of what you have to say is how this person is affecting your life.

attempting to enlist your once 'close' friends is kind of odd--if this person was really that bad, then it wouldn't have been an issue. what on earth did you tell them when you tried to 'talk sense' into them? it obviously wasn't clear to them--and since they're no longer 'close' friends, i would assume you didn't listen to their opinions about this person.

if she's as manipluative as you say, she will eventally move on to new people she can use. not much you can do about that. your best option is to not react to her at all. don't acknowledge her stalking, don't give her attention, and don't let her know that her behavior bothers you. once she doesn't get a reaction from you, she'll move on.

i'm guessing, though, that you won't be able to do this. you were fixated enough to post this question, so it's going to be really hard for you to detach yourself from this situation. good luck.
posted by lester at 8:12 AM on December 12, 2007

If your friends try to gossip to you, shrug and just say, "Not interested." Ignore online communication that you feel is counterproductive. Be polite in social settings, but if you start to feel that things are going to become dramatic, quietly leave or bow out of the conversation or even change the subject or laugh it off.

This doesn't quite sound like sociopath behavior, it sounds like someone who has too much free time and isn't that self-actualized trying to create motion in her life. Speaking about her or bowing to her behavior is helping play into that. If she's making it so that you can't live a happy, non-dramatic life, then find a new way to live that lifestyle, even if it means retreating slightly from your social circle and socializing with your friends in different ways, away from her.
posted by mikeh at 9:20 AM on December 12, 2007

Well, I had lots of very fun friends who literally fed off of drama and gossip like they were energy vampires when I was younger.

Eventually, I dropped them all.

One way to control this is to start hosting gatherings at your place; do not invite this girl. Be sure to let anyone know who's coming that extra people are not welcome.

If she shows up and begins acting in a way that upsets you, ask her politely to leave. Whomever brought her cannot attend the next function.

If you see her in public, politely say hello and then walk away. Do not engage her. Do not make eye contact with her, and if your friends are with her, do the same. Cold shoulder speaks volumes.

Also, start hanging out different places and making new friends. Mature friends, of course.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 9:58 AM on December 12, 2007

No one who does wrong would do it if they knew how wrong it was.

I don't really have any constructive advice to give the OP, but I read that and my jaw dropped. That's just... do you really believe that? People do wrong things that they know are wrong all the time. Sometimes they do them because they think a worse thing would happen if they didn't. That's ok. And sometimes they're just evil bastards who like doing bad things and don't care that they're bad, because they personally enjoy it and that's all that matters. It's not that they can't tell right from wrong; they just don't care. Those people are sociopaths, and having to deal with them is unpleasant, but sometimes unavoidable. Sucks to be the OP.
posted by hades at 12:07 PM on December 12, 2007 [2 favorites]

i don't have any amazing advice. i basically just wanted to commiserate. i have a hard time believing that i didn't somehow secretly post this question in a blackout or something, because it's SO CLOSE to a situation i am going through. however, mine is a bit different--said sociopath is my nephew's mother. so something that you can do is relish the thought that you are not connected to this woman for the rest of your life through familial ties, like i am. you can just cut her out of your life at any time. i agree with you, though--the hardest part is watching her ruin the people you care about and being helpless to stop it.
posted by starbaby at 9:25 AM on December 14, 2007

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