A recent AskReddit thread started by u/dahdoc posed the question, “Therapists of Reddit, what made you realize you were treating a sociopath?” Not all of the responses we chose to include are from therapists; some are from family members of psychologists, some are from other professionals in the medical field, and one particular one is from a sociopath himself.
Many we’ve chosen not to include because they are too horrifying and graphic to casually throw into a post like this…though, this isn’t to say that the responses we did clock aren’t totally insane as well. Read at your own risk.
My dad’s a (now semi-retired) psychologist. Back in the 90’s, he was working as the director of psychology for a large housing and treatment facility for the severely mentally disabled. He wanted to get into doing some therapy sessions for non-disabled folks on the side, just to mix things up and stretch his professional wings a little. Our house had a home office “wing” with a separate entrance, so he decided to start seeing a few patients on the weekends.
This plan lasted about three weeks before he realized that he’d made a terrible mistake.
One of his patients, a very large gentleman, began visibly melting down during a session, pacing around the office and acting increasingly erratic. My dad’s thoughts turned to the fact that his wife and three kids were now in the same house with a big dude who was clearly unstable. He slowly positioned himself by the door in case the guy tried to bolt for it. The guy noticed this, pulled out a gun, and said, “Don’t worry, if I wanted to hurt you or myself, I would have already used this by now.”
My dad utilized the same skills that he knew from working with violent patients at his main job to talk the guy into putting the gun away. He escorted him from the premises, and never saw another patient at home again.
My mom was pissed.
They came in to the hospital after making a suicide pact with someone and didn’t follow through with it and the other person completed. Acted really broken up and said they felt guilty about it and seemed genuine. It was all an act. Later on during the inpatient stay they made another suicide pact with another patient who then told us about it and said the sociopath was pushing them to come up with a plan and pick a date to do it. Apparently they had done this with like 3 other people and getting admitted to psych units was their way of finding vulnerable people to target.
Not a therapist, school psychologist. When talking to a student, he casually mentions how he keeps his parents “in line” by threatening to call ICE to have his mother (undocumented) deported. He doesn’t care about his family in the least, and they have zero control over him. His two siblings are typically developed and are terrified of him.
I’ve been a licensed therapist for going on three years now, but I’ve been seeing clients (with an Intern license) for about five years. The vast majority of my clients have been on probation or parole and have had a wide range of mental illnesses, including anti-social personality disorder (ASPD).
My mentor described folks with ASPD like this: “It’s in the eyes. They’ve got shark eyes: cold and predatory, like they’re staring right through you, looking for your weaknesses to exploit.” And, having worked with several people with that diagnosis (and adolescent precursor Conduct Disorder), it’s pretty damn accurate. People with ASPD are some of the most manipulative people around, and many of them enjoy it. Manipulating people is almost a game to them–well, a mini-game to indulge in while they work on whatever else they’re planning, even if it’s as simple as “present as normal.” And, let me tell you: they’re good at it. It’s incredibly difficult to out-play someone wtih the diagnosis at their own game because they’ve been playing it their entire lives. Since my clientele are court-ordered, most of the manipulation revolves around trying to cover up whatever else they’re doing (abusing their domestic partner, abusing substances, etc.). Some are more impulsive than others with the diagnosis, but they all have the shark eyes.
Therapist here. I’ve had several clients that were a bit extra. The one that sticks out the most was during my work as an inpatient therapist where a borderline HIV + sex addicted client tried locking me in her room during rounds and offering “favors”. Followed by a barrage of suicide comments after being rejected. I haven’t done therapy in 2 months now and I think I’ll stick to academia for now.
I’ve worked with a few, the most disturbing one was an ex military guy. He had served time in Iraq in the early 2000s, and he had killed in the line of duty. He always seemed a bit off, but the story he told me that was like, “holy f**k he’s a sociopath” was when he told me about how he would do things like kill goats, because he could get away with that and some families there depend on livestock to survive. He also told me about making starving children fight over candy. He talked about watching kids fight to the death with rocks over candy he would throw on the ground. Awful, scary stuff. This person is currently a free man.
The second was more of a “sterotypical” sociopath. He had been arrested for drug possession, and during the arrest attempt had stabbed himself a few times while trying to stab the arresting officers. He was very sharp, but intentionally choose the life of a drug dealer because it was violent. I don’t think he ever actually killed anyone, but he definitely abused people pretty horrifically. He dealt meth and enjoyed power tripping off messing with desperate addicts. He would make them do gross/painful/awful things to “earn” their fix. He was also the only antisocial person I’ve ever met who had a weakened pain response. He once stabbed himself with a pen to prove to me he “didn’t feel pain”. And I mean like a legit, buried the pen in his flesh, blood everywhere kinda stab. Yeah….
Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I’ve seen it mentioned that Sociopaths don’t come in for services and this is true, but I’ve seen some incredibly sociopathic behavior. It primarily comes up with husbands I see. Men who were raised to think that their household was their kingdom and everyone in it was there to serve them. Men who can’t comprehend that their wives or children have their own thoughts and feelings. It takes about ten minutes to tell the difference between an angry spouse that doesn’t know how to communicate and a person who genuinely has no ability or will to empathize with their partner.
Best example was after this guys wife had broken down crying in our third session about how he talked down to her, I asked them both what some goals for therapy might be. His Immediate response was “I want to work on understanding why my wife makes such stupid fucking decisions.” She broke down crying again and ran out of the room. The guy just looked at me like, women amirite? He had no idea that what he said was hurtful, or he wanted to hurt her. Either way it was chilling to watch. Spoiler alert she left him two weeks later after he threatened to shoot her if she left him. Yes she’s safe and much better now.
Not a therapist but my father is a full-blown sociopath, the type where when I showed a list of sociopath behavioral traits to (~10) people who know him, they all immediately responded with something along the lines of “holy shit – that’s exactly like him”. He has been in therapy for decades to “deal” with his “anger” issues. I witnessed firsthand how incredibly well he played his therapist. He managed to convince his therapist that several totally normal people in his life were mentally ill and ruining him. Even after he verbally abused his wife in front of both of their therapists, his therapist still believed he was a great guy/victim.
The number one thing I have learned from this is that sociopaths often manipulate people by controlling perspectives. They constantly avoid the “big picture” and keep people focused on whatever small thing is happening at the moment. The best way to understand what they are doing to harm people is to take a step back and try to see patterns in their behavior such as constantly making assertions about other people’s sanity, or lack there of.
Not a therapist, but was counseling a student. The student was female, 15, smart, had a good amount of friends, and liked cutesy things. Here’s some things she said to me that made me suspect something was really wrong with her. Keep in mind that I have no qualifications to diagnose someone. I just think she’s abnormal.
-Was dating a boy. Told me she had no feelings for him, but was dating him because he was “useful” and did things for her. She did nothing in return for him, and he was very sad about it. When I asked her if she felt bad for making him sad, she told me, “No. If I make him sad, that’s his problem. Why do I have to care about his feelings? I can’t feel what he feels. It doesn’t affect me.”
-When I asked her if she felt guilty for using him, she said, “No, he started hanging around me because he likes me. If he likes me, then he should make himself useful to me. What else is he good for?” She had no concept of romantic affection, but that may have been excusable for a 15 year old depending on maturity.
-She told me her friend’s dog had died and she pretended to care because that’s what she was “supposed” to do, but it was her friend’s problem and she didn’t understand why she was supposed to feel anything about the situation.
-She told me that one of her teachers had told her friend to stay away from her because the teacher noticed that her facial expressions often seemed faked and forced. She did not understand why this was an issue and asked me, “Doesn’t everyone fake emotional reactions? Like if someone tells a joke, don’t you pretend to laugh? Or if someone tells you someone died, don’t you pretend to feel sorry for them?”
-She asked me to explain to her what genuine emotion felt like, and what empathy felt like. After both explanations, she was completely confused and told me that she had no idea what I was describing and had never even suspected that everyone around her wasn’t faking emotion and empathy just like she was.
-She left the conversation convinced that she was normal, and everyone else was just weird.