Most of us have had the…experience of living with, working with, or otherwise being in close contact with a sociopath, though we may not have known it. I had the fortune to deal with some ‘challenging’ characters in work and personal life, and I learned a few things – some of them the hard way. (I have anonymized these people so they don’t have an excuse to sue me.)
Perhaps the worst was the woman who married a older man we know, let’s call him Rob. He was in his seventies, she in her sixties, both looking for someone to spend their days with. They met online. Because they were in cities that were about a five-hour drive apart and she had no transportation, Rob made all the effort to visit Lily, we’ll call her. To make a long story short, they married. We attended the wedding and were happy for him – she seemed nice enough.
Red Flags #1 & 2 – Diabetes and a Martin Guitar
Fast forward two years: He has a stroke and is in the hospital; after about a week, he dies. We go for the funeral, and that’s when the funny stuff started happening. First, we visited the grieving widow in her house, formerly Rob’s house. (She broughtly literally nothing of financial value to the marriage.) In the dining room was a buffet with a hutch on top filled with Girl Guide cookies.
She said, “He loved sweets, so I gave him cookies every day.” He was diabetic.
Well, that seemed odd, but we carried on. The house was full of Rob’s things, including a Martin guitar. Rob’s daughter wanted it – literally the only thing any relative asked for – and Lily said no. Granted, it was worth a bit, but Lily had inherited everything from Rob, he had set her up with an income for life, and she didn’t play the guitar.
Nothing would persuade her, and she almost seemed to take pleasure in saying No.
Red Flags #3 & 4 – Living arrangements
Naturally, we were talking to widow Lily about how she was doing, how we could help, and so on. She repeatedly asked Rob’s son if he agreed that Rob had set her up well for life. Keep in mind that Rob and Lily were married perhaps two years, and now she was inheriting everything that might have gone to Rob’s kids. Almost like she was rubbing it in.
We wondered why there was a bedroom set up in the basement. Turns out Rob had been living there, in the damp basement, rather than up on the main floor master bedroom with his wife. Odd. They got married to be together.
He also developed a terrible cough, maybe from living in a damp basement. It would not surprise me if a coughing fit caused the stroke.
Red Flags #5 and Holy Sh!t – The Funeral, Plenty of Fish
The day of the funeral turned out to be an open casket viewing, not my favourite. Widow Lily walked in, saw Rob, and fell back with a dramatic cry. Her daughter caught her, clearly embarrassed. Lily asked if that wasn’t what grieving widows were supposed to do? Seemed like the daughter was used to dealing with fake drama.
The funeral progressed without further incident and we all ended up back at the house. I am with Rob’s son and the grieving widow, who asks if he thinks it would be appropriate for her to contact some of the men she had met through Plenty of Fish before she met his father?
The day she buries her husband, she asks his son what he thinks about picking up with men she once dated.
Three months later, the grieving widow was living in Rob’s house with another man.
Lily is almost certainly a sociopath. I didn’t recognize that at the time, but credit to Lily for helping awaken me to what sociopaths are and to study them. Turned out I had several more to deal with a work, but I’ll get to that.
I Want What I Want and I’ll Take What I Can Get Away With
The heading above captures the entirety of the sociopath’s moral code. They have literally negative concern for other people – less than zero. I say this because sociopaths like toying with people, like hurting them. So they care about others, but in an evil way.
Lily wanted financial security and she didn’t care who she had to con – and maybe kill – to get it. Rob, by the way, was the third husband she had buried.
All sociopaths are like this. They want what they want and do not, cannot care about anyone else. They don’t have the parts of the brain necessary for empathy, caring, and love. And they have zero compunction about how they get what they want. Even the non-murderous sociopaths, who make up the majority of them, don’t care at all if other people suffer or die as long as they get what they want.
Psychos at Work
One workplace implemented a work-from-home policy for one day of the week so people could get things other than meetings done. They could have a heads-down day to complete work uninterrrupted. One employee, we’ll call her Janet, never seemed to respond to texts, calls or emails on the WFH day.
People grew suspicious. Janet insisted she was working away on a number of documents that would be ready any day. Finally, her manager demanded she upload everything she was working on to the company servers, not her own computer. No problem, she said, look at all I’ve been doing. She uploaded a dozen documents.
However, the Microsoft software she had been using to update the documents and spreadsheets has a feature that says when it was last edited. It was June when the upload was demanded; a look at the documents showed that none had been worked on since March.
A common trait among sociopaths is laziness. They are used to coasting through life, often claiming credit for the work of others. In this case, Janet had been working a four-day week while getting paid for five.
Another quality of sociopaths is the ability to make everyone think they are much smarter and harder working than they are. They manage to convey the impression that they are busy and in-demand, when in reality they are dodging real work as much as possible.
Their idea of ‘work’ is schmoozing up the corporate ladder. Janet would always be the first to volunteer to talk to senior managers and executives. They do this to protect themselves from you and their coworkers. Sooner or later, people figure out that this person is worthless as a worker and totally untrustworthy as a colleague. You march into the boss’ office and complain about Janet…and are shocked when the boss views you as the problem.
Turns out that Janet had been buttering-up the boss and getting him totally on her side. He now trusts her and not you.
Why Management Promotes Goofs and Liars
Sociopaths are very good at acting nice, at acting like they’re your best friend or trusted coworker, but it is not in them. There is no niceness or decency in them, at all.
Another gentleman that I had the experience of working with, we’ll call him Andrey, was considered a ‘diamond in the rough’ by upper management. They thought he had potential if the rough edges could be smoothed. It is common for management to be blind to sociopaths because a) they are sufficiently distant to not see how the sociopath operates, and b) they remind them of themselves earlier in their career. Lots of managers were aggressive and abrasive in their climb, and they see these as necessary qualities in a manager.
This man had also made an effort to schmoose his higher-ups, and had persuaded his own boss and the next boss up, a Vice President, that he was a Very Smart Person with a Future. Shocked they were when I came to them with tales of Andrey’s malfeasance. The VP was big on following policy: He oft-stated view: If you don’t think a policy is right, change it, but until then you follow the policy.
To Andrey or any sociopath, rules are for fools and little people, so he ignored anything he didn’t want to bother with. The VP was surprised; Andrey really seemed to ‘get it.’ The VP emailed Andrey to ask him to please follow policies. Anyone else would have had at least a verbal reprimand and a black mark on their HR file, but Andrey was the VP’s favourite, according to other managers.
Not Deep Thinkers and Not Decent People
Andrey crashed and bashed his way through a project, ultimately taking a new software system live…but wait, it had to be delayed. Turns out that Andrey didn’t include a key person on the project team – he deliberately cut her out, in fact. Why? She wanted things in the software and Andrey couldn’t be bothered, so he pushed her out. It was that simple. Sociopaths usually are not deep thinkers, they lurch toward their goals in an opportunistic manner.
A manager had cottoned on to Andrey and was working to fire him. Sociopaths are sensitive to this and will often quit before being fired, which is what Andrey – and Janet – did. Janet went on to a consulting firm. When I spoke with someone from that company, she reported that Janet was wreaking havoc. “You were lucky she left – she’s the kind of person who would bring a sexual harassment charge just to get back at someone.”
Andrey disappeared and nobody cared. Actually, many people were happy – two separate groups had small celebrations when Andrey left. He was a bully, a jerk, an obnoxious asshole who didn’t care about other people except as they were useful to him. His boss realised what Andrey was really like on the last day, as Andrey spent that going around the company bad-mouthing everyone he didn’t like, which was almost everyone.
Not Just Weird or Quirky
Another fellow that I worked with many, many years ago, I now suspect was a sociopath. He had many of the traits: totally self-centred, didn’t care about anyone else. Highly controlling, a bit of a power freak. Hoarded knowledge deliberately as a source of power. Stylish dresser – he really stood out among a group of make technicians.
He also coached teenage boys in martial arts. One day he started bringing them into the office during off hours so they could use the computers, which were new at the time (this was the nineties). He wore his flashiest duds like he was on a date and sat very close to the boys to help them with the computer. Very. Close.
I left that company and years later a former coworker told me he had been arrested for paedophilia or something related. I could never confirm that, but it would not surprise me. As I now know, sociopaths want what they want and don’t care how they get it, so it could be this man was grooming boys for sex and we unaware techs didn’t pick up on that – we just thought he was weird.
Sociopaths are Everywhere
The unfortunate reality is that sociopaths make up approximately 1% of the population and they are everywhere. Some are smart and some dumb. Some are very good at hiding it, others cannot. All like hurting and dominating people: sociopaths are sadists. All are thieves of one kind or another: money, love, innocence, some even taking life itself.
The blatantly murdery ones are clearly a threat, but they are a fraction of the 1% who are sociopaths. Despite being a tiny percentage of the country’s population, they make up 20-30% of the prison population. They will hurt or kill you and are to be avoided.
The everyday, high-functioning sociopaths are impossible to avoid because they are everywhere, but if you find yourself working for or in a relationship with one, RUN. There is no defense, not because they are smarter than you, but because they are evil and you are a normal, trusting human.
Destroyers of Worlds
Being affected by various sociopaths during my life caused me to study them to protect myself. In the course of doing so, I discovered that sociopaths are the source of most problems in life, from work relationships to climate change. They wreck literally everything.
It has been said about both Trump and Putin that “everything he touches dies.” That was certainly true for Lily’s three husbands. Sociopaths are evil and they do great evil. They are destroyers of worlds small and large. They pollute and cause climate change, then lie about doing so and viciously attack anyone who calls them on their lies. Putin has ruined Russia with his invasion driven by megalomania. Trump has brought the US to the brink of fascism. At work, they are snakes in suits who will steal your ideas and next promotion. In love, they fake it well until they can’t be bothered any longer.
I have had the experience of learning from sociopaths, sometimes the hard way. Please learn from my experiences and those of others: don’t play with sociopaths, you will get burned. At best.