The last post of the series on emotional and social self-defense. Hope this series proves valuable to everyone and you may consider it my heartfelt gift to you, my readers. Thanks for taking the journey with me.
The last few tips are all about what to do when you find yourself in a dispute with a sociopath and their minions. You've put yourself out there, kept the personal stuff close to the chest, dared to live fully, stayed alert and paid attention, learned the system and found your place, and cultivated support-- yet someone comes after you.
One thing you'll notice right away? Gossip is both your worst enemy AND your best friend in these situations. Yeah, you heard me right. People talking to other people is how most of these things go down, so refusing to participate in keeping up with personal news between people will always put you in a very poor political position. Note that. Embrace that. Learn more about that below.
A Good Person's Guide To Living In A Bad Person's World
10. Always keep your options open and refuse to be cornered.
If we've been doing what we're supposed to, we already know who the sociopath is likely to be, and who they're playing against us. We know how things work in the group we're in and who is likely to back us in a dispute. Now that trouble is brewing, we're aware its on its way and we've hopefully got a little time to prepare. Now what--?
I'm going to add that this goes for whenever we find ourselves dealing with apaths that could be turned against us. Sociopaths are at their most powerful with the most helpless. We must do everything we can to NOT be at the mercy of them! Being trapped is what we have to avoid at all costs. That means giving up our implicit trust in anyone we haven't tested in certain situations before.
Perfect example? When my husband and I moved to Ohio to help his apath/minion father who had cancer and needed help with his business. Not a bad guy when he's with good people-- but capable of complicity when paired with or surrounded by bad people. Mona was a sociopath, so guess what ended up happening to us? Yeah-- SCREWED. Our mistake was in putting ourselves at the mercy of this pair before realizing what they were capable of-- a mistake I never intend to make again.
Point is, it would not be possible for someone like Mona to have tormented us so thoroughly for so long had we had a Plan B going in. Taking stock of every situation where we may be vulnerable is crucial-- and yes, it takes some raw cynicism to implement, but the consequences for neglecting this step are too high. Always have a Plan B, and C and even D if its possible.
One way to do this is implement "if-then" scenarios. If the sociopath takes tactic X, I will respond to it via A. If they implement tactic Y, I will react with my B plan. If Z, then C and so forth.
Which leads to our next step...
11. Always have a plan and play big, not just long, in implementing it.
A recent anonymous commenter pointed out that in her experience with narcissists, she learned they can never plan ahead more than a couple of steps-- because they rely so much upon watching your reaction before implementing another step. That's good to know for the rest of us. We can cover our butts if we're smart. Always be looking for more options in case things go wrong. And if they do start to go wrong, start to implement your own plan right away. Assume you're being targeted and line up your evidence and your support people.
Speaking of lining up support people..! One grim lesson I learned during personal disputes that clobbered me until I changed my tactics: other people tend to believe the first version of any story they hear. Its not right nor fair, but its how most human beings operate. Once they decide upon a side-- they will then tend to cling stubbornly to that side because to change their mind would require admitting being WRONG to begin with and most people's egos simply can't bear such a challenge. That means that when trouble starts, you need to make sure your side of the story is known EARLY. I always felt that getting other people involved in my business with another person meant I was stooping to playing dirty. Well, let me tell you, playing fair meant I lost every single time. I've come to the conclusion now that telling my side of a dispute is okay as long as I am scrupulously truthful. I don't advocate gossip (which is other people's business) but telling my own business is justified and even necessary.
We must be willing to see the Dark Game (that we never wanted to "play" in the first place) through to the end. If we're targeted by a sociopath, one of us is going to be leaving the organization in most cases. We must plan long term so that person isn't us! This means taking that set of contingency plans and then creating another set for whatever happens next, and then yet another set of plans for what happens after THAT and so forth! Staying flexible (see #10 and don't get cornered) and adapting our plans as we go, and we can remain several steps ahead and come out on top for a change.
Further, we shouldn't just plan long-term, we should also refuse to be meek about dealing with being targeted. Sociopaths win by virtue of surprise and because good people tend to hesitate to accuse, let alone strike back-- by the time most empathic targets are actually outraged, the "game" is all but over already. This is another reason why gossip is one of those things we not only have to deal with, but must embrace as a part of life. When you're plugged in to your group's "information network" you will have several benefits:
1- You'll cultivate sources of information and soon be able to assess the accurate ones versus the self-serving ones.
2- You'll hear whispers of trouble brewing long before it actually strikes you.
3- You'll have a way to get "your side" out there should trouble erupt.
Social scientists have figured out that gossip actually evolved as a strategy to empower people to defend against sociopaths. NOT KIDDING! It creates and enforces social "norms" like not stealing from your neighbors, not cheating on your significant other, and not hurting people for fun. Again, gossip is one of those things I used to avoid like the plague-- how could I care about all those silly dramas going on all the time in the social background? And of course that means I missed early clues and had no one on my side when I was targeted. Sociopaths use gossip like champions to find, cultivate, and recruit followers-- and then to turn the social tide against their targets. By avoiding gossip, we just give all that power away to them when we don't have to.
I definitely think this is a skill that takes time and practice to hone, but rest assured oh empaths-- you'll get targeted multiple times and soon have ample opportunity for said practice if you haven't already!
12. Recognize and use the ego and greed of others to create a path to success.
Its true that being empathic means having some vulnerabilities that can be exploited by the unscrupulous. However-! The good news is that the sociopaths and apaths of the world have their own list of weaknesses. Empathic people put the general welfare and doing what's right above serving our egos, so we are not as prone to the fallibilities of hubris and desire as the other types. Knowing this can help up even the score and even tip the scales in our favor should we choose to use that knowledge.
For example--! I have a sociopathic niece who targeted me when I was in my 20s and she was a teenager because she didn't want to lose control of Gerick. She even started dating a guy who was a friend of mine to make me jealous (which I wasn't because I never thought of that friend romantically.) When she showed her true colors to me (giving away her plans during a fit of rage) I was in a quandary because both my boyfriend Gerick and my male friend really fell for my niece's charm and to start with they disbelieved my reports of her changed and hostile secret behavior towards me. (I mean, she was vicious!) But I also knew she was touchy about certain things, because her ego was so caught up she couldn't take the slightest shallow criticism, even something imaginary, so I barely tweaked her on those things (during normal conversations and such) knowing she would over-react. She did, and eventually outright attacked me in FRONT of my boyfriend and friend and outed herself for me. They both realized she was psycho and she was dropped out of our collective lives. I had never before operated in such a manner, thinking 6 steps ahead to 'help' someone reveal their true hatred of me publicly, but my long-term plan (took 5 months) worked and I was able to live my life in peace without her having influence over 2 people in my life I had become close to. I used her ego weakness against her. Her attempts to do the same didn't set me off, however, because her opinion of me had no bearing on my opinion of myself. I was immune to something she was very vulnerable to. (Lest you feel sorry for her, all this went down nearly 20 years ago and she DID turn out to be a life-long sociopath, so...)
Greedy people often make stupid mistakes. Narcissists often make stupid mistakes. Narrow-minded people make stupid mistakes. The idea is to open an opportunity for them to make that mistake to begin with! Tempt them into ruin, in other words, while making sure they out themselves either publicly or to authorities or at least to those we care about (boss, family, friends). Exposure of the sociopath is the best way to win when they come after us-- let them show others who they really are so we don't need to prove we're right about them. If they do the work for us, we can stop their plans and injure their reputation enough that others no longer blindly follow them.
This step is a hard one for most of us, I think, because we'll constantly doubt that we're doing the right thing. Even when we know we don't have a choice if we're going to stop someone who is coming after us-- it can feel very hinky. In the end, such a step is up to each individual, but when we find ourselves in a personal war we didn't start, sometimes its either THIS option or unconditional surrender.
13. Pick your battles and never let your opponent have control.
If we've got a long-term assertive plan going, and we're seeing it through, we just have to stay focused. Mini-dramas related to the main issue with the sociopath will erupt and we might find we're tempted to get into it over trivial distractions. But we can't get drawn in-- those things the sociopath sets up will be looking for our REACTION. At that point, they've taken control of things yet again. Pull back, reassess, and continue with your original objective while tweaking it as necessary.
Ideally, we can see where its prudent to peddle our influence and watch things come out in our favor. Where an outcome in our favor is less likely, we may choose to duck and cover for a while. Sometimes letting the sociopath think they're winning for the short term will buy us time or help to illustrate to others what the sociopath is capable of (if we are certain their actions will be witnessed or recorded in some way-- legally of course!)
Pick your battles where we have witnesses to their behavior. Pick the battles where they leave evidence of wrong doing. Choose to engage only when we are reasonably assured of a "win."
14. Once the sociopath is exposed, strive to cut off as many avenues of influence and contact as possible.
This is going back to Martha Stout's advice again in her book The Sociopath Next Door. Once we realize a person is a sociopath, its best to protect ourselves and our loved ones by staying away from that person. Even if they're family, we don't allow them to come to our home or to have contact with our kids. Even if its not "proper," we should refuse to invite them to weddings and holiday gatherings. Avoidance is our best initial plan, as sociopaths tend to go for what's right in front of them and convenient.
However, at work or in neighborhoods that may not be possible. It may also be too late to prevent repeated contact (as in families or in wider social groups) and so we may well find ourselves victimized or targeted and forced to strategically plan a defense as indicated in the above steps. Once we've managed to expose the sociopath and/or helped them get themselves into trouble once more we have to pull back and deny contact.
This can be hard. The sociopath is not likely to take defeat well, and may be intent upon revenge. Of course, socially, once exposed most sociopaths are outed from the group, and the same may be true at work. We might have to take legal action if things escalate further. But regardless, not communicating or continuing contact is crucial. The more a sociopath can say, the more they'll strive to make us react to them to try to draw us back into their Dark Game under their rules once more. Don't fall for it! Resist the temptation! Get away and stay away! If that means we have to change residence or jobs, then so be it. Few sociopaths will keep up a campaign over a victim or target that bites back. They'll likely move on to newer, easier prey. However, exposing them means they may be more likely to get exposed again so we can feel good we've done our part at least! In most cases, cutting off contact WILL work eventually. Often swiftly with the lazier ones or the ones who wish to avoid punishment.
Personally, I would add that its probably a good idea to keep track of our former enemies for at least a little while until it seems likely they really have moved on (or gone to prison, or died). Sometimes someone from our past will pop up and surprise us (witness Veg Hag!) and we should be prepared for another round if necessary. I suppose I've learned that none of us should ever be surprised when it comes to sociopaths or apaths bent upon revenge, and just skipping the profound shock part would be for the best.
AND THAT'S IT for now!
I feel sad to think of how much we all have to do just to keep on our toes in case assholes come after us. What a bunch of wasted energy and concern! Its not fair in any way, shape, or form! Yet the truth is that, realistically, peace is always and ever a temporary gift that we must treasure. We would like to think peace is normal and dealing with psychos is abnormal, but maybe that's not realistic all the time. If we can face the truth and learn to be "pro-actively defensive" then perhaps we stand a chance of winning ourselves more peace down the line compared to most.