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Jennifer Delaney Headshot

Have You Ever Been "Duped" by a Sociopath?

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"The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them"- Maya Angelou

Recently, there have been a string of people in the news "duped" by sociopaths and psychopaths, or for the sake of simplicity, let's just call them predators. (The psychiatric diagnosis only helps so much - they are destructive and adaptive.)

As former New England Patriots player Aaron Hernandez sits in a Massachusetts jail accused of first-degree murder, Patriots owner Bob Kraft told Boston.com he was "duped". "If this stuff is true, I've been duped, and our whole organization has been duped," Kraft said.

Jahar Tsarnaev, the alleged Boston Bomber has fans who think he's cute, and believe he was framed despite quite a bit of evidence to the contrary. In an embarrassingly transparent attempt for attention, Rolling Stone Magazine put Tsarnaev on their once coveted cover usually reserved for pop music royalty.

Also in Boston, Whitey Bulger (a criminal from "Southie," a famously loyal Irish neighborhood) could never have blossomed into the prolific murderer he is accused of being without help of a few corrupt FBI agents, and a microcosm of people who believed his BS of "protecting the neighborhood" he was actually destroying.

The only remarkable thing about Bulger is his luck to be surrounded by so many that bought his lies, looked other way, or were too terrified to speak.

Everyday, reasonably healthy people forgive violent behavior, believe lies, and give habitual second chances to predators who have lied and hurt them before. Why are so many of us so easily "duped" into enabling predators?

Are we taking "seeing the best in others" too far, or are we driven by self-interest - ignoring the signs for the possibility of a winning team, making money or "keeping the peace" in a family or relationship?

The most common explanation I have heard is: "I hoped/wanted to believe this time things would be different, he/she would do the right thing." Our hope is the lifeblood that keeps the predator going.

Police and psychiatrists see these cases all the time, and the predator almost never stops. There will be periods of calm, or they might move on to someone else, but the hardly ever stop. There is therapy, but most predators won't go, or just lie if they do go. There are no known cures sexual predators, sociopaths or psychopaths. I was told the only things that work are no contact and/or restraining orders (sometimes).

In the 2005 book The Sociopath Next Door: The Ruthless Versus the Rest of Us, psychologist Martha Stout claims that the number of sociopaths at large in society is close to 4%, or 1 in 25 people. Some say that is quite a low estimate, and there are also a number of other predatory disorders walking among us.

Chances are we all know at least one. The following observations are based on decades of witnessing my predator in action. While the following may not be applicable to all, I don't think they are unique to my experience:

1. Seeks out Rescuers, Vulnerable, Gullible, Overly Loyal, and Dysfunctional People: Those with weak boundaries, mental health issues, or enablers are the only people who will put up with the predator for any length of time. The best scenario for a predator is to cozy up to an enabler in a relationship with a substance abuser or with a personality disordered partner. Those extreme enablers have already proven they have high tolerance for abhorrent behavior, and are willing to live in a chaotic environment where the predator can thrive. Reasonably healthy people and families reject the predator as soon as they cut through the charm and see what's underneath.
2. Gets Those Around Them to Keep Secrets: "Please don't tell! I won't do it again! I didn't mean it!" The predator can't operate with out people to keeping their secrets. If all of the people around the predator were aware of every crime, act of violence and deception committed, they would run, and the predator might end up in prison(if not there already).
3. The Truth Is Their Kryptonite: They will slander and assassinate the character of anyone who sees them for who they are, tries to tell the truth, or calls them out on lies. The truth is direct threat to their way of life.
4. Like an Evil Energizer Bunny: They will exhaust and drain you emotionally. If you find yourself constantly trying to figure out "What to do about Fred/Jane?" They are probably a predator.
5. Charms Those in Power and Hurts the "Little People": Whether in an office or a family, predators know who they can pick on, and most importantly, how to manipulate the power players into thinking "He's so nice to me, I can't imagine him doing terrible things." (See quote from Bob Kraft.)
6. Charming, But Only for a While: They're wonderful at first. But soon, you notice a creepy stare, and they say chilling things that lack empathy towards animals, the elderly or children. The normal give and take in a conversation is absent. They just keep talking and might even throw in a veiled threat to intimidate.
7. Pity, Pity, and More Pity: Exaggerate illness, money woes, how badly they have been treated. They need you to feel sorry for them so you will do things for them. According to Martha Stout, the pity play is the telltale sign of a sociopath.
8. Manipulates You Into Letting Them Back Into Your Life After They Have Done Terrible Things: Like breaking into your house, hitting you, intimidating you, or someone you care about. If you set boundaries and say 'No", be prepared for a barrage of manipulation. They will use any excuse and some will sound reasonable - "their kids want to see you, they left items at your house, they miss you SO much". The predator will try anything to break that boundary. "No, No and No" is your answer - do not give in. If you drop the boundary for any reason, they know they have you. Let your phone go to voicemail. Do not respond to their onslaught of questions and insinuations - that's how they suck you back in. You decide the frequency, content and duration of contact, or they will.
9. No Respect for Your Boundaries, Only Complies With Law Enforcement (Sometimes): Predators do not listen to reason. They pretend to, and will draw you into a conversation to get you to forgive them - so they can start up again in a few weeks/months. If you engage, this will become a vicious cycle and will happen over and over again. Your only protection is to get good locks, a restraining order if it is warranted, and call the police if you feel unsafe. Do not hesitate to do any/all of the above.
10. Senses Weakness and Hesitation: They look for wavering, guilt, and "benefit of the doubt" in normal people to exploit it. Don't make the mistake thinking if you give in to this one demand, they will be happy. They will just start pushing for the next thing.
11. Mirrors Your Values: Feel like and outsider? The predator will tell you they are one too. Are you a nurse? The predator will tell you a story of how a nurse helped him, and how wants his kid to be one too. They flatter you; mirror your interests and desires so you feel aligned with them, for the sole purpose of manipulating you.
12. Drug and Alcohol Abuse: Never sticks to a program, or detox. It's for show. Indiscriminate - will use whatever they think they will not get caught with. If they have a Breathalyzer in their car, they will use drugs to get around that. Sneaks drugs and alcohol while vehemently denying using.
13. Constant Lies and Exaggeration: Big and small, to cover something up or change perception. Anything to make themselves look good.
14. Lots of Promises, but no Positive Action: Promises of getting clean, stopping violent behavior, or doing something helpful, but no follow through. The promise is just a con to get what they want at the moment, and they don't care if the let you down later.
15. No Give. All Take: You are always doing for them. They are always taking. They praise you so you will keep giving. If they do anything nice, they want everyone to know, (it is usually part of a manipulation) and expect huge praise for small tasks.
16. Aimless and Looks for the "Easy Way Out": Not great at holding a job. Often seeks out public assistance or cons someone for money and/or shelter. No direction. No personal initiative to make positive changes in their life.
17. Quick Temper and Violent: If caught in a lie, they will try to manipulate out of it first, and then get very angry and blame others. If someone "flies off the handle" at the slightest provocation or if you are frequently indulging someone to "keep the peace"- it is a red flag.
18. Blame Game: It is always someone else's fault. No matter what it is, how clearly it is the predator's fault, they cannot take the blame; unless it is part of the manipulation that goes: admit/apologize/pity play/forgiven/make up.
19. Accuses You of Their Actions: If they are spreading lies about you. They will accuse you of spreading lies. If they are getting drunk they will tell people that is what you are doing.
20. Criminal Record: They have probably gotten away with most stuff, but sometimes get caught when alcohol, drugs or violence are involved.
21. Never Matures. Attracted to Superficial Signs of Beauty and Strength: Very into physical appearance, and projecting a certain image, loves fast/flashy cars and women/men, always talking about money, guns, into horror movies, sharks, tigers and other predatory "strong" animals. Very basic juvenile interests.
22. Feigns Empathy for Children, Animals, and the Elderly: Seem to lack the normal protective feelings for the vulnerable, but sometimes fakes it to look good. It is eerie when you recognize it.
23. Weak Intimate Relationships: A string of broken marriages/relationships. No real love or emotional connection. Seems driven by convenience, access to sex, and financial interest, or using partner or kids as tools to manipulate others. Strained relationships with many family members. Frequent cycles of chaos, calm, chaos, calm, in relationships.
24. Divide and Conquer: Manipulates and pits people against each other. Looks for weakness in marriages, family and work relationships to exploit.
25. Drags Everyone Into the Drama: Create chaos and points fingers at those who bring up the problem. Lies, manipulates and enlists other dysfunctional people in their crazy-making behavior. They goal is to get everyone so confused and upset no one can even remember the predator is the root of the problem.

I don't have a magic number of how many of the above characteristics a person needs to have to be a predator. If you recognize a person in enough of the above, you will know.

The predator will continue to create chaos in your life, ONLY if you continue to let them.

Get professional help. If you can cut off all ties with the predator, do it. If you have to engage with this person, limit contact. Let you phone go to voicemail. Set boundaries and do not let them cross the boundaries - ever.