Are you in a relationship where you are always in the wrong and chaos is the norm? Your partner doesn't show any concern for anyone other than themselves and has extreme antisocial tendencies? The chances are you are in a relationship with a sociopath.

Sociopaths don't care if they hurt, bully or maim. They have no conscience and show no remorse. Exiting a relationship of this sort can be painful and difficult but being aware of our former behaviours helps us gain insight, which in turn helps keep us from getting inadvertently (re)trapped in a cycle of abuse.

Restricting Contact

Each person's situation is unique, and it's best to determine for yourself what amount of contact you are prepared to accept. It's not uncommon for a sociopath to behave badly and in an extreme fashion as soon as they realize you want to reduce or stop contact. They may become more disruptive and manipulative in an attempt to regain control.

Find a therapist

On the plus side, most sociopaths eventually give up hassling and manipulating you — usually when they set their sights on a new target. If you think the sociopath is potentially dangerous, and you perceive that you, another adult, or any children are at risk, you should seek help from the authorities. Maintain written records of all agreements and discussions involving all those who may be at risk of harm, and regarding the welfare of children. Keep all written statements in a safe place; you will need ample evidence if you decide to take legal action.

In most circumstances it's probably best to have no contact at all with your former partner. While it can be quite straightforward to cut ties with someone who is relatively new in your life, if the sociopath is part of your social group or family or you have children it becomes more complicated. You should ensure that other friends and acquaintances know you are no longer in contact with the individual and ask them not to play “go-between". Cutting ties is a painful and terminal action but typically a necessary one. If the individual does harass you, keep all their communications in case you have to pursue a harassment charge, as this is potential evidence. If you wish to save the evidence but think you would be tempted to read it or act on the contents, immediately give any communiqués to a trusted third party or a lawyer who can store them safely.

Preventing Lapses in Judgment

Often at the point of exiting a relationship or being rejected a sociopath will accelerate their games. They may make you question your perception of what happened, or everything and everyone you hold dear. They may feign remorse to try to win you back. Meanwhile, others who don't know the full extent of your situation may make judgments and disparaging remarks, particularly if you have left a marriage, job, or family.

There will be situations to look out for and avoid until new behaviours and habits are embedded and become the norm. It takes time to gain confidence in one's ability to make what may be sweeping life changes. It takes patience and a willingness to learn from trial and error to sustain changes and fully adapt. Sometimes we make decisions that may appear unimportant or insignificant on the surface but actually increases the likelihood that the person making it will be placed in a high-risk situation. A person may ignore, deny, or explain away the importance of these decisions and choices. Examples include:

  • Driving past the sociopath's home on your way home from work
  • Idly “googling" the sociopath or checking their Facebook page or Tweets
  • Asking after the sociopath to third parties who are still in contact with them
  • Finding some reason to send the sociopath an e­mail
  • Texting the individual on their birthday or some other special occasion

All these are seemingly innocuous but can put you in the path of danger. Perhaps, as you drive past the sociopath's house, they see you and wave. That one small act gives them license to call you, hooking you in again.

Triggers

Years of conditioning mean that a particular trigger may set off a reaction in you by a process of association. Triggers work as a call to action and can cause us to act on impulse. To avoid lapsing into previous behaviour it helps to find a way to disconnect our feelings from the object of association. Give yourself a chance to analyse your triggers, and see if you can devise ways to break the associations. Maybe just being aware that a trigger can arouse unwanted feelings and memories is enough. Or maybe you need to talk yourself out of reacting to the trigger.

Understanding how best to dampen the effects of triggers is necessary in driving behaviour change. Jill's story below illustrates how to do this: Jill had not been in contact with her sociopathic partner for several months when a message from him appeared in her e-mail inbox. She immediately recognized it as a trigger, and knew that if she even opened the e-mail she would be in a high-risk situation, in jeopardy of responding to him and thus relapsing. Because she was mindful of this possibility she understood the position she was in. Instead of responding to the e-mail on impulse, as she previously might have done, she calmly deleted the message and got back to her other tasks, thereby sidestepping the high-risk situation.