What To Do If You Think Your Partner Is A Sociopath, According To Experts

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Although it might be easy to dismiss someone who’s done you wrong as a sociopath, the reality is that only four percent of the U.S. population can be accurately labeled as a sociopath. A sociopath, by definition, is someone who has zero regard for laws, the autonomy of others, and are unable to feel empathy or remorse. While these characteristics are also found in psychopaths, what separates the two is that sociopaths tend to be a bit on the nervous side, and are prone to explosive outbursts of emotion or rage. It's also assumed that they are created by their surroundings and/or childhood trauma, as opposed to genes.

Psychopaths, on the other hand, are thought to be born that way. They're highly educated and manage to keep their cool in all situations. If a psychopath has an emotional outburst, it’s because they’re mimicking the emotional outburst of someone in their life; they’re unable to feel things on their own so they're dependent on others to appear human, so to speak. So how can you pinpoint a sociopath?

"It's an important skill to be able to see through the charisma of a sociopath," Laura F. Dabney, MD, psychotherapist and sociopathy expert, tells Bustle. "The tip off to a sociopath is that the charisma is skin deep... In other words, when some actions don't match what a caring, kind person would do then you know it's not genuine."

But it's not just about charisma. When it comes to sociopaths, there's so much more. "Sociopaths are predatorial, manipulative, and in total control of the relationship before [they] even enter it," behavioral scientist and relationship coach Clarissa Silva tells Bustle. "They begin by learning (read: stalking) you and determine if it will fulfill their needs... When their desired outcome of hurting others for their selfish gain is complete and/or they are sufficiently bored with you, they leave."

In other words, sociopaths usually have a game plan. So here are five things to do if you think your partner is a sociopath, according to experts.

1. Try To Recognize Sociopathic Traits

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"Manipulation is a main feature of the entire relationship," Silva says. "Keep in mind that they are master manipulators; you will not recognize that you are being manipulated. They lack empathy and love, but can pretend that you are truly loved."

While you may not be able to accurately diagnose your partner as being a sociopath, if you take time to examine the behaviors of your partner and find some sociopathic traits in there even that's no good. For example, if they're predatorial and try to control you and the relationship that's a red flag, Silva says. A healthy relationship should be void of manipulation, false empathy, and control.

Also, sociopaths tend to love bomb their partner, meaning they'll turn on the charm and affection when it suits them, but then take it away as a means to keep control of the situation. "If it’s to a sociopath’s advantage to be sweet, kind, loving, and nice, [they] will be," licensed psychotherapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW, tells Bustle.

2. Remember This

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Although you may have been told that you should never try to change your partner, if your partner is exhibiting sociopathic behaviors then, yes, you probably want to change them. However, it's not that simple.

"If you think you are in a relationship with a sociopath, you must keep in mind that [they] can NOT change," Silva says.

According to Silva, many people stay with sociopaths in the hope that they will change "back to that very charming and enjoyable person" they used to be, but that was just initial charisma; a sort of luring-you-in technique. It's important to remember that this person was never real, so they're not coming back.

3. Suggest They Seek Treatment

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Although sociopathology can't be treated, it can managed to an extent. "There are treatments that address their comorbid disorders [more than one disorder occurring in a person at the same time] such as depression and anxiety," Silva says. "You can encourage that they seek help and start medication to treat their comorbidities."

4. Come Up With A Safety Plan

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"Sociopaths can experience a serious disconnect with their emotions and are highly unpredictability, it is best to seek out professional help if you decide to end your relationship," Silva says.

Even if you think you know your partner well, the unpredictability that comes with sociopaths throws whatever knowledge you think you have out the window.

"A mental health professional can help you create a safety plan so you can remove yourself from the situation as quickly and safely as possible," Silva says. "You may experience emotional distress and may want to think about finding a regular therapist to help you process this situation."

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has a helpline you can call to find an affordable therapist in your area: 1-800-662-4357.

5. Don't Persecute Yourself

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As Silva points out, sociopaths don't make their disorder public or known even to those closest to them — because they're unaware of it. People don't know they're a sociopath, because their ability to have feelings, understand right from wrong, and other attributes prevent that awareness. So you can't blame yourself over this — you didn't know.

"The one-sided relationship with a sociopath leaves the exploited partner full of self-blame and self-hatred," Silva says. "Remember a sociopath is incapable of self-hate, so [they] walk away unscathed. Do not persecute yourself for possessing the ability to love someone that lacks the ability to love."

Ultimately, if you see your partner for what they are and set up ways to protect yourself, mentally and physically, then you can proactively make steps to dissolve the relationship and move on.