If You’re Feeling Confusion About a Relationship, Perhaps You’re Dealing With a Sociopath

By: Donna Andersen

Maybe there’s someone in your life who makes you uneasy. They can be charming, energetic and fun, but then you see a mean streak. They claim to care about you, but can be truly inconsiderate, even abusive. You notice that their words and actions don’t match. If you’re honest with yourself, what you really feel is confusion about the relationship.

Confusion about a relationship is an early warning sign that someone may be a sociopath.

What’s a sociopath?

Those of us who grew up decades ago never learned about sociopaths. If we’ve heard the term at all, we may believe that a sociopath is a serial killer. After all, that’s how they are portrayed in the movies and news media.

Yes, some sociopaths are serial killers. But the vast majority of sociopaths never kill anyone. In fact, many of them have no criminal records at all.

Essentially, sociopaths are people who have serious personality disorders in which they live their lives by manipulating and exploiting others. They typically have deficiencies in empathy, conscience, impulse control and the ability to love.

How I learned about sociopaths

I learned about sociopaths the hard way — I married a one. I definitely experienced confusion in the relationship. My husband was charming, proclaimed his love, claimed he was a successful entrepreneur, yet was bleeding my assets and did not care that it upset me.

In reality, this man was a con artist. After I divorced him, he was professionally diagnosed as a sociopath. Because of my experience, I

warn people about people like him. In the process, I learned a lot more about these personality disorders.

Origin of “sociopathy”

The term “sociopathy” was coined by psychologist George E. Partridge in 1930. He suggested using the word to describe “anything deviated or pathological in social relations.”

The American Psychiatric Association adopted the term in its first Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published in 1952. The manual included a diagnosis of “sociopathic personality disturbance.” However, in 1968 the diagnosis was replaced with “antisocial personality disorder.”

Many mental health professionals refer to someone diagnosed with antisocial personality disorder as a “sociopath.” But today, the term “sociopathy” is not an official diagnosis for anything.

Related personality disorders

Multiple other personality disorders also cause disturbances in social relations. The DSM, which is the “bible” for psychiatrists and therapists, has a category of personality disorders called “Cluster B.” These disorders are characterized by dramatic, overly emotional or unpredictable thinking or behavior. Cluster B includes antisocial, narcissistic, borderline and histrionic personality disorders.

Another related disorder is psychopathy. Psychopathy is similar to, but not precisely the same as, antisocial personality disorder. Most university research psychologists use the term “psychopathy,” and hundreds of scientific papers have been published using its diagnostic criteria.

I advocate for using the term “sociopath,” as it was originally defined, to encompass all of these disorders. Why? The diagnostic criteria and behaviors overlap, so it can be difficult to figure out which particular disorder someone has.

For most of us, the precise diagnosis doesn’t matter anyway. All we really need to know is that these personality disorders exist and people who have them are dangerous to our physical, emotional, psychological, financial and spiritual health. We need to avoid them.

Key points about sociopaths

Here are three important points to understand about sociopaths:

  1. Millions of sociopaths live among us. They can be found in all demographic groups—rich, poor, male, female, all races, all communities. They often blend easily into society.
  • Sociopaths are not crazy. People with Cluster B personality disorders or psychopathy are not delusional. They know what they are doing; they just don’t care how their behavior affects others.
  • Once sociopaths are adults, there is no rehabilitation. No drugs or therapy have been proven to improve their conscience or ability to love.

If you feel confusion about a relationship, or if you just can’t understand someone’s motivation or behavior, you might want to be open to the possibility that he or she has a serious personality disorder.

Donna Andersen is the creator of and the author of eight books, including “Senior Sociopaths — How to Recognize and Escape Lifelong Abusers.” She is co-author of two scientific papers and offers webinars to help survivors and professionals identify, escape and recover from narcissists, sociopaths, psychopaths, and other manipulators.

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