What are psychopaths, sociopaths and narcissists?
These words have been thrown around a lot. They have been defined, misdefined, fetishized, dramatized, overemphasized, and under-recognized. So allow me to provide a succinct definition that we can agree upon so we can kill all these words and focus on healing, among other things:
A psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist is someone who doesn't care about you.
Anyone can fall for a P, S, or N. However, everyone doesn’t stay mesmerized for long. If you have found yourself in a relationship with a psychopath, sociopath, or narcissist for several months to several years, you probably have a few of these characteristics.
1. You empathize without boundaries.
Empathy is definitely a virtue. But so are boundaries. Unconditional love and understanding also comes with checks and balances. When you love someone, you pay attention to their patterns. Real love shows up to disrupt toxic patterns before they repeat habitually. If those jive turkeys try to deflect responsibility for their own behavior and thoughts (a form of gaslighting, which I discuss in this post), real love says,
“Hold on, jive turkey. You ain’t finna sit up here and try to convince me that you ain’t half of this relationship. If there’s a problem, we both have a problem. When you’re ready to own up to your end of the problem, we can continue this conversation."
Rhetorical license notwithstanding, this is love. This is empathy. This is also boundaries. You have established that you have not abandoned the person. You have established that you understand that they are a unique individual who experiences the world differently from you. You have also set the parameters for communication and gave the other party power to determine whether or not they will continue communication with you. It is now up to them to be better or choose to exit your influence. The next move is theirs and your boundaries are firm. Boundaries are self love.
2. You are a rescuer.
Rescuers understand how hard life can be. They have witnessed the cruelty of life and the irreverence of humanity. They know that just because a person looks a mess doesn’t mean that they are fully at fault. Often, the rescuer has experienced hardship that they couldn’t escape on their own followed by grace at the hands of people they could never pay back. The responsibility to reach back and pull forward can lead a rescuer back into the pits of hell to extend a life line to others who are just like she was, creating an entire culture of hell hunters and reachers back.
But sometimes, the rescuer encounters one who doesn’t want to be saved. The P, S, or N doesn’t want to leave hell. They feel at home there. They have connections in hell. They will pretend to want to leave just to attract the rescuer and leech her energy for as long as she will allow.
No one can save anyone. We all, ultimately, must save ourselves. A rescue is a critical move that’s quick and has a particular goal. Once the goal is reached, the rescue is complete and the parties go their separate ways, perhaps meeting again to share notes during holidays.
Don’t get caught up rescuing someone forever. Once out of crises, if they can’t tell you their particular goal, walk away. They don’t want help. They just want to waste your time and resources…and it’s not personal. They just don’t have anything better to do. Besides, there will always be another rescuer on the way. Let them deal with it. You have much more productive ways to use your time.
It may hurt to let them go initially, but it will help you in the long run. Rescuers often create a fantasy that disables their ability to recognize patterns. To see clearly, you must relinquish the fantasy of what you think should be and deal with the reality that is. Your only responsibility is to rescue yourself. When you're physically and emotionally secure, you'll understand how to efficiently help more people rescue themselves.
3. You’re an equal opportunity optimist.
Living on the bright side feels good. It provides you with tools to see the positive in even the most challenging situations. Optimism increases health outcomes, financial outcomes, healthy risk talking that changes life situations for the better, and the ability to imagine alternate realities. There are so many possibilities... and they’re all possible!!!
All this optimism ain’t got nothin' to do with anybody else’s life. Furthermore, nobody is entitled to your optimism. All those good feelings and positive vibes are for you. If someone benefits from your positive thinking on the back end, like if you start that foundation that collects school supplies for children in your neighborhood or if you finally get that 15 passenger van and pack it with senior citizens that you take to the mall for laps on Saturdays to increase their heart rate so they can handle their bad assed grandkids on Sunday after church, that is some beautiful shit.
On the front end, be selfish with your optimism! Make moves on your own terms and don’t talk about them until they have manifested. Let the haters hate after the check clears and don’t let the PSNs count your moves or your dollars. Nobody needs to know what you’re doing until it comes time for them to collect the care packages you made for them.
Normal, healthy people do not need to know all the details of your life to care for you or offer support. If someone is prying or having an attitude about you not sharing the details of your unrealized optimistic goals, that's a red flag. You are entitled to privacy and keeping your business to yourself until you are ready to share it on your terms.
4. You value forgiveness.
Quite simply put: fuck forgiveness. Watch, learn, do better, and only deal with people on your level. When they or you mess up, everybody learns and does better. We all know when we’ve misstepped and we want to make it right in real time…unless we’re a PSN.
Forgiveness is a man made concept. It doesn’t exist in nature. Nothing does anything wrong. Life just moves forward and everyone and everything evolves towards adapting to new realities based on who and what they are. Forgiveness is one-sided and, as a concept, best used towards alleviating your own shame or guilt so that you can move forward with complete trust in yourself. When life pushes you on a trajectory, trust it. Trust your process. Trust your path. Other people can and will do whatever they want to do. When you know what you’re doing, where you’re going, and who you are, you can live in wholeness of character, or integrity.
We develop integrity by getting clear. When we are clear in our communication with ourselves, we are clear with others by default. With clear communication, people know, up front, how they can contribute to our vision and we understand how we can contribute to theirs. In the context of clarity, a shyster stands out like a rodeo clown on the basketball court.
On the other side of being manipulated, once able to see more clearly, people often report feeling stupid. But it's not stupidity that leads someone to be manipulated. It is a calculated scheme performed by a master manipulator. None of us are immune. But once we know that people actually can be "like that," we learn to become master listeners. People reveal themselves subtly and early. Listen and believe.
5. Children of narcissistic parents
This one is the hardest to overcome. We are conditioned to believe that the way we were raised is normal. If our father makes our mother cook and clean after work while he watches the game and drinks beer, we begin to believe that this is what a normal, healthy relationship looks like.
Recognizing unhealthy patterns in how we were raised requires heightened awareness. This awareness can sometimes only come from others pointing it out. No one wants to believe that their parents were narcissists, sociopaths, or psychopaths, but considering how increasingly common these empathy-deficient conditions are in our society, somebody’s parents must have been perpetrators.
Cycles of abuse can be escaped when we decide that our feelings are completely valid. When we feel down, low, depressed, controlled, sad all the time, or powerless, chances are that someone or some group of someones has consistently demonstrated an unhealthy norm at some level of our development. As adults, we can see a new problem pretty easily. We become confused and can’t make sense of someone’s irrational behavior. We reject what doesn’t make sense to us because it has never made sense before. But as children, we normalize what we experience. Familiar patterns are comfortable until we take inventory of our feelings and learn to love ourselves so much that self-defeating patterns become intolerable.
Your life is yours. You have the power to validate your own experience and make your life what you want it to be. Be the parent to yourself that you would be for your child. Don’t allow anyone to use, abuse, or manipulate you, even if they are your own family.
Sometimes, you need an objective 3rd party to help you find your voice and validate your feelings. When we grow up with norms that render us voiceless, like a common norm that you're supposed to give your last to any family member who needs it, your ability to have feelings around that norm is taken from you. Any rejection of that norm is seen as hostile or negative by those who are relying on you to accept that norm so THEY can be more comfortable. When you recognize that you don't have to sacrifice yourself and your resources for the comfort of others, you will have anger. You will feel betrayed. Your anger, just like your hurt and discomfort, are all valid. Recognizing this is the first step. Keep stepping.
Run Your Life
Find your voice. Get over the guilt of disappointing other people. This is not easy. This is hard, hard work. Run your life like you would run your business. If you let other people influence your moves, they don’t have to deal with your bills not being paid. You do. Take charge. Love intentionally. Set boundaries. Set goals. Follow through. The only way out of a manipulative, soul sucking relationship is investment in self. Disengage from the vampires in your life and invest all that energy into you.
Don't be like them
We've all had PSN moments, but if we have empathy, we don't like the feeling of being mean or manipulating others. We become less likely to be victimizers and victims through healing from our past and growing into loving ourselves.
*This piece is for entertainment purposes only and is not a substitution for psychoanalysis or therapy. If you feel that you are or have been the victim of a manipulative abuser, seek professional intervention and begin your path towards healing and recovery.
*Special thanks to my homie for sharing her experience with a narcissistic boyfriend who tried her for a while until she was like, "Nah." My homie also said, "Watch as many standup comedy shows as possible. Human nature is ridiculous and laughing at all this helped me heal."
Dr. Cathryn D. Blue is a social psychologist on paper and a cultural anthropology hobbyist. Her goal is to illuminate the universality of human experience so that we can grow and heal, knowing that we are not alone in this.
© Cathryn D. Blue. All Rights Reserved