Therapists Share How To Heal After Dating Someone With Sociopathic Tendencies

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Swipe through 25 people on your dating app of choice, and odds are at least one person with antisocial personality disorder (ASPD)—colloquially known as sociopathy—crossed your screen. Research estimates that up to 4 percent of humans meet the diagnostic criteria for ASPD, which means they have been shown to consistently meet at least least three of the seven criteria behaviors outlined in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) for ASPD:
  1. Failure to follow the law or social norms
  2. Repeated lying or deceitfulness
  3. Impulsivity
  4. Aggression and irritability
  5. Disregard for their own safety or that of others
  6. Consistently irresponsible
  7. Lack of remorse for hurting or mistreating others.

However, that doesn’t mean that the other 24 fish-holding, selfie-taking cuties who cross your screen are all paragons of empathy and respect. Some of these folks may not have antisocial personality disorder, but still display sociopathic tendencies. After all, “an individual must meet three or more of the [above] criteria for antisocial personality disorder in order to receive a diagnosis,” explains psychotherapist Courtney Glashow, LCSW, founder of Anchor Therapy LLC. Thus, it’s possible for someone to consistently have a few sociopathic traits without having the diagnosable condition. Someone with sociopathic tendencies might, for instance, lack empathy for others, but still be a law-abiding, job-holding individual, she says.

Dating folks who have any number of these traits can be quite painful. And healing from the wounds they leave in their wake requires self-compassion, as well as a sound support system. Ahead, learn more about why dating someone with sociopathic tendencies can be so disorienting, and how to recover from dating a sociopath (or someone with those traits) after calling it quits.

Experts In This Article

Why dating someone with sociopathic tendencies can be disorienting

Experts say it is common for people with sociopathic tendencies to use a number of manipulation tactics to wrap people—particularly lovers and romantic partners—around their fingers.

In the beginning, sociopaths and people with those traits commonly use mirroring (mimicking or matching someone else’s verbal cues and body language) or love bombing (employing over-the-top affection, flattery, gifts, and attention) to make you feel instantly connected to them, says Naiylah Warren, LMFT, therapist and clinical content manager at Real. “In romantic connections, it can be hard to distinguish between performative intimacy—such as the intimacy created by those who love bomb or mirror—and genuine intimacy,” she says. As a result, these tactics are unfortunately effective at making someone feel like they’ve met their soul mate.

“It is common for people with sociopathic tendencies to gaslight that the issue is made up in your head, or that your emotions are not grounded in reality.” —Courtney Glashow, LCSW

Later on in the relationship, someone with sociopathic tendencies might gaslight you when conflict arises. “It is common for these people to gaslight that the issue is made up in your head, or that your emotions are not grounded in reality,” says Glashow. The intent of a person with sociopathic tendencies here, she says, isn’t to resolve whatever conflict has arisen or to soothe your emotions, but rather to control their partner. As you might guess, “over time, these tactics make you doubt your own feelings, instincts, and ultimately your view of reality,” Warren says.

Signs it's time to reconsider the relationship

A relationship with someone with sociopathic tendencies is likely not a healthy one, according to Glashow. Healthy relationships, she says, are marked by mutual empathy, respect, and open communication. These are things that many people with sociopathic tendencies are not able to provide.

As a result, “these relationships often end up feeling one-sided, and result in the person without these tendencies being manipulated,” she says. In extreme situations, the person with sociopathic tendencies may abuse their partner. “If you are dating someone with these tendencies, it is very likely that you experienced emotional abuse at some point in that relationship,” adds Glashow.

As much as you may love this individual, you probably need to leave this relationship, she says, adding that in order for this person to change their sociopathic ways, they would need to get professional help to gain some empathy.

“There is no right or wrong way to get out of a relationship with someone with sociopathic tendencies,” says Glashow. But, she suggests consulting a licensed mental-health therapist who can help you come up with a break-up plan based on your current financial and housing situation, as well as the particularities of your partner. Likely, your plan will involve going no-contact, a whole lot of self care, learning how to trust again, and leaning on your support system. (More on these things below).

How to recover from dating someone with sociopathic tendencies

Yes, dating someone with sociopathic tendencies can be incredibly disorienting. But trust, you won’t feel disconnected from reality forever. These strategies can help.

1. Seek therapy if you’re able

If you’ve been in a relationship with someone who has exhibited sociopathic tendencies and haven’t already reached out to a mental health provider, consider doing so ASAP, suggests Glashow. You’d ideally find a provider who specializes in relationships, trauma, grief, and domestic violence, says Glashow.

“The right provider will be able to validate your experience, teach you how to cope with the psychological impact of the relationship, and help you rebuild both trust in others as well as trust in yourself,” Warren says.

This provider will, for example, remind you (as often as you need to be reminded) that it is not your fault that you fell for that person’s shenanigans. Nor is it any family members' or friends' fault that they didn’t see this coming. After all, people with sociopathic tendencies are savants of manipulation.

2. Lean on your support system

Being romantically and/or sexually entangled with someone with sociopathic tendencies can make you feel like you’re living on another planet. Warren says talking to and leaning on the people in your life who don’t have these tendencies can help bring you back to reality. These are the people who have repeatedly proven to be steady, compassionate fixtures, she says.

In addition to helping you learn how to trust again, “your support system [helps] you rebuild the parts of your life that might have been affected by this relationship,” she says. For instance, if you were living with this individual, healing from the relationship will require a relocation. Your support system will be able to put you up for a few days, weeks, or months—or simply help you haul boxes of stuff from your old place to a new one.

3. Connect with others who have been in the same boat

Sadly, you are not the first person who has experienced hurt at the hands of someone with sociopathic tendencies. After having your entire reality called into question, Glashow says finding others through social media who have experienced what you have can be both stabilizing and soothing to have it reiterated that you’re not the only person who has ever gone through this devastation.

It can also re-instill hope, she says. “Likely, you will find someone was able to get out of this type of relationship and grow into an even better person after getting out of the relationship.”

4. Educate yourself

“Reading about a topic can always be helpful,” says Glashow. And that stands when the topic is sociopathic tendencies and antisocial personality disorder.

Educating yourself about sociopathic tendencies and antisocial personality disorder, “can validate what you are going through,” she says. “It can help you understand that they need professional help, it’s not your fault, and it also not on you to change them.”

This article is a great place to start! Other popular books on the topic include: The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout, Confessions of A Sociopath by M.E Thomas, and The Sociopath at The Breakfast Table by Dr. Jane McGregor.

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