Sociopathy is a disorder of personality. Whether a man or a woman, the sociopath acts to protect and sustain an inflated, but ultimately fragile and unstable sense of self. Relationships with other people are generally dysfunctional because the sociopath has no moral compunction to do anything that is not in their own interests, and will protect and enhance their own self-esteem at the cost of cooperative relationships and intimacy.

Where sociopathic men may use physical dominance and control over their intended target, sociopath women often rely on another approach: manipulation of the minutiae of their relationships. Sociopaths of both genders are motivated by the need for power and control over other people and the expectation of some sort of gain, which is used to provoke the admiration and envy of others. They are noted for their shallowness and fleeting attachments. They don’t get other people’s ‘neediness’ and tend to show emotions or share feelings as an act of manipulation. With little emotional goings on inside they often seek stimulation from external sources. Hence they often engage in struggles for psychological one-upmanship or ‘mind-games’ with other people for sadistic pleasure.

Being involved with a sociopath is like being brainwashed.

One to four percent of the population exhibit sociopathic traits so it is likely you will come across a few on the Internet. To date or get caught up in a relationship with one can be a traumatic experience. Individuals who have often respond with self-deprecating statements like ‘I was stupid', ‘What was I thinking?’ or ‘I should’ve listened to my gut instinct’. But being involved with a sociopath is like being brainwashed.

How can you spot them in everyday life? The sociopath’s superficial charm is usually the means by which they condition people and draw them in. This appeal diverts attention from the more disturbing aspects of their nature. Many sociopaths wreak havoc in a covert way, so that their underlying condition remains hidden for years.

The Internet is a great opportunity to meet new people and make new friends. A lot of us make use of dating sites and most often it is a great opportunity. But the Internet also attracts unpleasant sorts like sociopaths. A sociopath’s real nature may remain hidden. This is because many of their behaviours are seen in ordinary people too – they lie and cheat as lots of other people do. What marks them out is their desire to control other people and use them as objects to manipulate. They will do all they can to preserve their self-esteem whilst trampling on yours.

When you first meet a sociopath, you may be impressed by their good manners. They may go out of their way to please you and will fall back on flattery. These tactics are designed to draw you in. But beware, for they are not what they appear, which is why they are called ‘social chameleons’. It seems counterintuitive that someone so charming can be so dangerous, but individuals often remark that they were overwhelmed by the sociopath’s charm offensive. The sociopath’s smooth conversation adds to the illusion of being in the presence of someone special.

Protect yourself

  • Figure out ahead of time if your prospective date acts oddly or aggressively online. Are they very opinionated in their posts? Are they ever impolite or threatening to other people? (It is a common tendency for sociopaths to have ceaseless feuds and to play the victim). Do they post creepy photos or peruse weird web sites? Doing some prior investigating before agreeing to a date can save you heartache further down the line.
  • Be aware of your online vulnerability - many sociopaths go online with the sole intention of spotting and picking up people to scam. Don't mention what you do for a living or how much you earn.
  • Be aware of sounding needy in your profile. Look at the information you put out there and what it says about you. Sociopaths are usually on the lookout for ‘needy’ people so don’t make yourself sound anything but in control.
  • Often they have a lot to say (and it is mostly about them!), so listen carefully to what they say (or post) and don’t say. At first they often try to make you feel special so be careful divulging too much personal information. We bond easily with people who have had similar experiences.
  • Trust your instincts – our instincts warn us of predators if only we took note.
  • Don’t forget all the usual dating tips if you decide to go ahead and meet up. Pick a public place for your first date, tell someone where you’ll be, and be careful about what you drink.
  • After a while a ‘conversation’ with a sociopath, even online, can feel like a bombardment. To the untrained ear sociopaths’ pronouncements sound authoritative but on close inspection sometimes make little sense.
  • Take your date to meet your friends and see how they react to him or her. Also watch how he or she interacts with your friends. If you value your friends’ opinion, get their feedback about your date.
  • Be assertive when you meet. Set the boundaries. If you decide the date was a mistake be direct and be brief; don’t confuse your date by giving excuses for continuing any contact. Sociopaths don’t tolerate being rejected well, but remain unmoved if they push for further dates.
  • If you’ve decided to end your date early, don’t worry about being rude. It’s the least of your concerns!
  • Count your blessings you got away!

If you have become involved in a relationship with a sociopath, you may be struggling with the consequences. At this time it can be very helpful to get an objective perspective on the matter; a counsellor or therapist can offer this.To seek help from a therapist, visit the therapy directory

Jane McGregor works for newly registered charity SoRECS: the Society for Research into Empathy, Cruelty and Sociopathy. Visit the website here