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How to Communicate with a Psychopath: 3 Tips for Dealing with the Emotionally Stunted

Updated on January 13, 2017
Karli McClane profile image

Karli writes as a therapeutic outlet and with the hope that her articles will be useful to others who have suffered psychological abuse.


Some People are Incapable of Growing Up

The safest policy is to have no contact with such dysfunctional individuals. However, there will be times when you will have to deal with a psychopath, whether it be a co-worker, some confrontational clown at the movie theater, a family member you couldn't avoid - parent, sibling, child - doesn't matter. Or perhaps, you're trying to co-parent with one of these personality disordered individuals.

I am not a professional; my advice comes from my own personal experience, and from a wealth of resources - books, websites, forums, etc. In my opinion, the following are the three most important things to know when interacting with a psychopath. It's also worth mentioning that true "communication" with one of these manipulators is not possible, so be aware of that going into any conversation with someone like this. It's a dance where they try to get into your head, and you put your guard up, trying to maintain a good defense.

*Note that I use the terms 'psychopath' and 'sociopath' interchangeably. I read somewhere that the difference between the two is that a sociopath shows loyalty within a group (think gang members), but a psychopath is loyal to no one. Semantics. You say to-MAY-to, I say to-MAH-to. At any rate, the jury seems to be out on what the difference is - experts have vast number of differing opinions on the subject.

The Gift of Fear - Gavin DeBecker

The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence
The Gift of Fear and Other Survival Signals that Protect Us From Violence

The only problem I had with this book is that the author seems to be of the opinion that males only are aggressors. If you can ignore that, the book contains a wealth of practical and useful information, and it is a very interesting read. He designed the MOSAIC Threat Assessment System, which helps law enforcement determine which domestic violence cases are likely to result in eventual homicide.

We tend to rationalize or flat out ignore danger signals for fear of being seen as impolite. DeBecker will help you learn to recognize warning signs and trust your instincts, in order to protect yourself from predators. This is especially helpful information for people-pleasing, co-dependent types, who have loose boundaries.


What's your experience?

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1. Establish Rock Solid Boundaries

Stand Your Ground

Psychopaths hate boundaries and, just like children, they will constantly test yours. If you are the child or spouse of someone who suffers from a personality disorder, it's very likely that you have weak boundaries or none at all. Think of establishing, and maintaining, strong boundaries as putting on your armor.

Sociopaths try to make you feel as if you have no options. They are able to more easily manipulate you once they have made you feel powerless and defeated. Do not allow them to back you into a corner, to make you feel helpless or that you have no choice but to give in to their demands. You always have choices, you may just need to step back and figure out what they are.

If you are being pressured, and you feel the need to remove yourself from a certain location, then do so. Go for a walk, head to the bathroom, take some deep breaths, and regain your composure. Once you have removed yourself from the emotionally charged setting, you'll be better able to assess the situation.

If at all possible, do not get into a vehicle with them, because then you have no egress. However, if you do find yourself without an exit strategy, and the crazy is escalating, try to remain calm. Possible options are to simply ignore the personality disordered individual, repeat a mantra to yourself (for instance, "peace" or "calm"), or keep repeating a response out loud. An example would be to tell them (in the most serene and in control tone of voice you can manage), "I refuse to speak to you when you're being irrational." Or, "I'm not comfortable having this conversation with you."

Assertiveness will be interpreted as "mean" or "rude", because, by being assertive, you are maintaining a boundary. Never underestimate the sociopath's low self esteem and tendency to internalize anything that is said to them. No matter how narcissistic or grandiose they can appear to be, they inwardly detest themselves. Even minor, constructive criticism will be taken personally. Do not allow this to deter you from asserting yourself and protecting your personal space.


2. Remain Calm

Do Not Get Sucked Into the Drama

Keeping a cool head is the most important thing you can do in almost any situation, and it is imperative when communicating with a sociopath. When possible, it is helpful to remind yourself before you even see the person to disengage. Prepare yourself emotionally, as they will try to get under your skin in any way that they possibly can.

They enjoy pushing your buttons. Do not give them the desired response. Do not allow them to see that they are having any effect on you whatsoever. If they see that they have hit a nerve, they will keep digging at it. Be aware of what you are communicating nonverbally (fidgeting, teeth grinding, knuckle cracking, etc.).

You cannot have a rational conversation with someone who is irrational. This is perhaps the toughest challenge for some of us. You may be looking at an adult, but you are speaking to the emotional equivalent of a ten-year-old. (In some cases, 10 is a generous estimate). Adjust your speech and mannerisms accordingly, but try not to come across as condescending. What good will it do to get angry at a child for having a tantrum? The difference with psychopaths is that you can't realistically send someone who's biologically an adult to his or her room, so you'll have to be creative about how you handle yourself in their presence.

Under no circumstance should you argue with them; you will not win. They will always be right, and you will always be wrong. They are unwilling to listen to reason and logic. You will not get through to them, and you will only wind up frustrated. If they do let you think that you have won an argument, be wary! They want something; they are lulling you into a false sense of security, the other shoe will drop after they coerce you into doing, buying, or giving them what they want.

A co-worker may have a harder time figuring out which buttons to push, but be especially wary of ex-lovers and family members who know you very well. If you feel yourself becoming emotionally responsive to their attempts to provoke you, try repeating a mantra in your head, even if it is simply one word such as "disconnect" or "serenity".

Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work
Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go to Work

I highly recommend this book. The information is to identify manipulators in the work place, but it translates to any situation where you might encounter such a person. In fact, if you have a "friend" or relative like this, you will recognize some of the same behaviors instantly. It is frustrating when you know that something is terribly wrong, but you can't quite put your finger on it. Reading books like this one will help you to identify it and name it, which will help you talk about your experiences, or at least write about them. Making sense of what is happening/has happened to you is essential, if you want to bounce back. Also, once you've identified the manipulative behavior, it will be easier to see the next time a bully comes along and tries to pull your strings.


3. Stay Focused

Be Wary of Diversion Tactics

Keep your attention on what is important. A sociopath will use elaborate hand gestures, stand too close to you, stare you down, constantly touch you, anything they can think of to distract you from catching the discrepancies and contradictory statements coming out of their mouths. They will embellish and outright lie in order to appear more intelligent, more accomplished, more interesting, more anything than they really are. They will also abruptly change the subject (or tell a series of lies) if you call them out on something.

They will try to keep you on edge or make you feel uncomfortable. Do not allow them to overstep your personal boundaries. "No" is a complete sentence, and you don't have to disclose information that you do not want to share with them, nor are you obligated to tolerate physical contact.

Be aware that they may tell you something personal (which may not even be true - they are, after all, compulsive liars) in order to make you feel obligated to share something personal with them. The goal is to elicit private info that they can then use to their advantage. For instance, maybe it's a secret you fear they will tell others, or perhaps it's just knowledge they can use to guilt trip you. They can use seemingly innocuous information to manipulate you in ways that you wouldn't even have thought possible, so be very careful what you divulge.

See past the flighty hand gestures, smiles, winks, attempts to touch you, and really focus on what they are saying. Their dialogue is usually full of contradictions and faulty logic. Just like mythical vampires, emotional vampires will try to mesmerize you (and they tend to use an abnormal and intimidating amount of eye contact). You are not obligated to look them in the eye. In fact, you may find it easier to focus on their words if you close your eyes, focus on a spot on the wall, or look at another facial feature other than their eyes.

Is there a manipulator in your life?

If so, what role do they play for you?

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Empower Yourself, Do Not Be a Victim

Establishing, and maintaining, strong boundaries is the best line of defense in keeping yourself safe from emotional vampires. Setting limits is absolutely essential, if you do not want to be taken advantage of. It is also important to remain calm and alert; focus on the words, not on the diversions.

You cannot change the behavior of a psychopath (or anyone else, for that matter). You can only change how you react, and not reacting to them at all is usually best. You do have choices; walk away whenever possible, and when you can't, be vigilant.

© 2012 Psycho Free Zone

Have to deal with a sociopath on a regular basis? - What's your advice?

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    • Scarlettohairy profile image

      Peggy Hazelwood 4 years ago from Desert Southwest, U.S.A.

      These all sound like great ways to steer clear of a psycho/sociopath.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 4 years ago

      Good advice.

    • dahlia369 profile image

      dahlia369 4 years ago

      A difficult topic...

    • profile image

      philipcott 4 years ago


    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 4 years ago

      Awesome tips - I was raised by a narcissist and then went on to a relationship with a psychopath - I ended up walking away and ceasing all contact with them. You're so right, you cannot win with a psychopath, so in their presence best to just keep quiet and avoid all drama.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 4 years ago from USA

      @SteveKaye: I sure hope so; that's why I created it. Thank you so much visiting.

    • makarenko profile image

      makarenko 4 years ago

      Thank you for "liking" my lens!- my first "SQlike"! :) I really like yours too - excellent info indeed, and it is emotionally balanced and to-the-point- very helpful! <3

    • tobydavis profile image

      tobydavis 4 years ago

      Useful collection of tips and advice, as you say, no contact is the best way, but not always possible.

    • profile image

      jayni-e-sylversmyth 4 years ago

      My partner and I were already fooled by two sociopaths - we invited them to be roommates and didn't realized what they were until they were intimately entwined in our lives. We're a couple of empaths and these guys tripped out our sensors and made us doubt everything we know and feel. How do we get rid of them now that we know what they are, and,

      How can we make them suffer like they made us in the process?

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 4 years ago from USA

      @jayni-e-sylversmyth: I'm so sorry to hear you are going through this. In order to rid yourselves of them, you will need the advice of professionals (a qualified attorney, maybe a therapist). They will need to know the details of your situation in order to advise you on how to proceed. I don't recommend trying to get revenge; it can backfire. And, as Gandhi said, an eye for an eye only makes the whole world blind. I wish you the best, and I hope you can untangle yourselves from this situation as painlessly as possible.

    • profile image

      ptosis0theseus 4 years ago

      @jayni-e-sylversmyth: You can't make them suffer - all you can do is get rid of them. "The exploiter will adroitly transform themselves as if a shape-shifter when ever a victim becomes aware of being manipulated. These changes can happen so quickly it's as if the person is a slippery eel wiggling with all their might when you are closing in to nailing them down."

    • InfoCoop profile image

      InfoCoop 4 years ago

      Your advice is spot on and also applicable to so many areas of life but especially useful in dealing with anyone who has a personality disorder.

    • profile image

      Aunt-Mollie 4 years ago

      Extremely informative article. I believe your advice will help many people.

    • rob-hemphill profile image

      Rob Hemphill 4 years ago from Ireland

      This is an excellent lens with so much useful information and advice for those trapped in this sad situation.

    • profile image

      msugar13 4 years ago

      This is an excellent lens, chock full of informative and useful advice for those of us trapped in relationships with the type of person described herein. Sometimes , it is impossible to completely disconnect from the sociopath or person suffering from personality disorders. I've become trapped in one because of the remarriage of the father of my kids. At first, I tried reasoning, logic, apologizing, accepting apologies for months of harassment and defamation. I recently made the mistake of letting my guard down because, said person had not targeted me in quite a while and was in fact acting pleasant. Big mistake. As another parent pointed out to me, my temporary reprieve was only because this person was targeting another victim. I feel for that person. At least now, it is becoming obvious to so many others who are around this person, just how dangerous she it. In the beginning, I was worried about my kids and their relationship with their dad, but they are old enough now and saw through her a long time ago. My question to you is this: While I am no longer concerned that she could manipulate my kids into believing her lies, should I be worried that she might harm them, in some other way? Each time she does not get her way or is confronted she seems to resort to more damaging tactics. Should I worry about them when they are in her presence. She launched a hate/smear campaign against my teenage daughter on the internet, and this was when the ex-husband finally intervened and the fake apologies rolled in. I know she is capable of that sort of maliciousness, but do these kind of people pose a more serous threat, such as physical harm? Thank you very much for answering my question. I learned a great deal from your lens and am eager to read many of the books you recommend.

    • BigRedDomino profile image

      BigRedDomino 4 years ago

      I've done tons of research on the difference in psychopath and sociopath. Psychopath has more of a tendency to be violent. A sociopath can feign emotions for appearance and personal gain. A psychopath sees emotions as having no value,therefore they simply don't care about them or about 'keeping up appearances'. Tit for tat, I know, but I have a lot of these people in my life...narcissism personality disorders are also parallel with these two. I'm trying to decide if they can help it or not.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 4 years ago from USA

      @msugar13: I'm so sorry to hear about your situation. Not all abusers are violent. However, they will inflict as much emotional damage as they possibly can. Smear campaigns seem to be one of their favorites. The best advice I can give is to seek the help of a qualified therapist for yourself and your children. Read as much as you can about these types of personalities. Teach your children coping skills. Perhaps even talk to a lawyer. Best wishes.

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      msugar13 4 years ago

      @Karli McClane: Thanks for responding. I'm looking forward to reading more of your lenses.

    • profile image

      msugar13 4 years ago

      @BigRedDomino: It's my understanding that a true sociopath or psychopath cannot be helped because they are not made the same way as other humans and lack a conscious, but if the toxic people in your life, suffer from personality disorders, there is hope for them. I also read that people who suffer from personality disorders, can and do become less destructive, later in life, mid-fifties is what I read . Best of luck to you. I know how much a person like this can disrupt lives .

    • LiteraryMind profile image

      Ellen Gregory 3 years ago from Connecticut, USA

      A lot of information on the difference between the sociopath and psychopath. I never really thought about it before.

    • kmhrsn profile image

      kmhrsn 3 years ago

      Wow. This is really an information-packed article. And many of these strategies work with your everyday average difficult person.

    • lbrummer profile image

      Loraine Brummer 3 years ago from Hartington, Nebraska

      Great information on how to react to super mean people. I think most folks know at least one person who could be considered a sociopath.

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 3 years ago

      Very helpful safety tips when having to deal with a sociopath. Fantastic lens! Sundae ;-)

    • profile image

      shellbaby430 3 years ago

      thank you...i've never experienced anyone like this until i re-married. his ex-wife is making our lives miserable. i'm hoping to learn how to deal with her & protect our family. It's very frightening at times.

    • profile image

      missmin 3 years ago

      Your lens is so beautifully and clearly written with such accurate information. Many thanks. I'm in the throes of divorcing one of these extraordinarily difficult and irrational human beings. It's going to be a long and very slow process because he is determined to control me by refusing to mediate etc, etc, etc. All the tactics you've mentioned are tactics he's currently using and has used throughout the marriage, during which he has been sadistic in terms of his emotional and psychological attacks. You're right to point out not to turn our backs on these individuals - nothing is surer than that we'll find a knife (hopefully the metaphorical kind) buried right in the middle of it. I'm healing well and moving on with my life, despite all the spanners he's throwing in the works with regard to property settlement and living arrangements. But he no longer has control of my emotions - I'm content with my family and glad to be able to hold me head high. Reading blogs, books, websites and lenses like yours have been a tremendous help.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 2 years ago from USA

      @missmin: Thank you for stopping by, and for taking time to post. I'm happy to know this lens is helpful to others. Wishing you all the best.

    • savvydating profile image

      Yves 2 years ago

      Excellent advice. This article kept my attention from beginning to end. I would also recommend that this method be used in dealing with, or choosing not to engage with trolls on hubpages who consistently show strong narcissitic tendencies. One tends to forget, as you so wisely mentioned, that just because a person looks like an adult, doesn't mean they are capable of thinking like one. Voting up.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 2 years ago from USA

      @savvydating: Thank you so much for taking the time to read my article, and thank you for your support.

    • temptor94 profile image

      Ritu Temptor 2 years ago from India

      Wonderful article! Most other articles on psychopaths deal with how to know one. Yours is very unique in that you talk about how to deal with one. Great and very crisp advises. Loved it! Voted up.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 22 months ago from USA

      Thanks for the support!

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 22 months ago from Irvine

      The only "danger" I see in people gaining a fledgling understanding of this psychological disorder goes to that old adage "that a little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing." Armed with some knowledge gained from books or elsewhere, I fear that some individuals may jump to the conclusion that associates/relatives with peculiar and unpleasant behavior could mistakenly be dismissed as mere sociopaths. Every individual is deeply complex. We can't pretend to be amateur pschologists and abscribe unpleasant behavior as a psychological type. I'm not sure how we're supposed to differentiate one from the other -- I suppose it has to do with the consistency (and degree) of their seemingly abberhant interaction with others. Finding a consistent pattern is a big tip-off. Seeking professional help can be helpful (not always), but not everyone can afford it. My only inclusion in this Hub would be to get to know yourself first. Once you think you have a fairly firm handle on that subject then perhaps we can be allowed to assess the actions/non-actions of others.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 22 months ago from USA

      You bring up a valid point. It did occur to me that some people might randomly ascribe socioathic traits to those close to them. My thought was that if they even suspect that someone is such a malicious being, it is better to err on the side of caution, and be alert and cautious when dealing with the suspected sociopath.

    • ologsinquito profile image

      ologsinquito 18 months ago from USA

      You described this all-too-familiar behavior very well!

    • profile image

      josie 18 months ago

      this was very helpful to me since i am in a relationship with one a sociopath ,he knows he is one an together somehow we make it work,i dont play the games i have rules an he follows them,i know i am to him but a thing an he cannot love ay i do him but somehow i cant seem to get out i find a way through it instead wish i could afford therepy but canot so here i am , it is what it is, i guess but this was very helpful, thank you its hard to find someone to talk to about it they just are like just leave look at all he has done to u ,,an they are right so why do i keep letting him back in my life i guess ill never know thank u for the great read josie

    • profile image

      katie 16 months ago

      great info! my father is a psycho/socio/narcissist (whatever else is available out there, he has it!) he is a true manipulator. it took me 35 years to realize and see the games. I cut all contacts with him for the past 2 years. however, my husband doesnt believe me. he thinks I am making everything up in my head. he feels bad for my father and calls him, wants to invite him over, goes see him and gives him all info my dad needs. I just cant make my husband see that not all fathers are nice and caring. that my dad is playing him big time to get info and uses him.

    • Shirl Urso-Farmer profile image

      Shirley Urso-Farmer 9 months ago from Michigan

      Great information, thank you :)

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 8 months ago from USA

      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment.

    • profile image

      Julia Snyder 6 months ago

      Eve Maram has a book called Psychopathy Within and she has personal issues that give her great insight into psychopaths and with her forensic background as well it really makes you wonder where the brain changes. is her site, but her book is so good as far as learning about what makes a psychopath.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 5 months ago from USA

      Thank you; I will check out her site.

    • profile image

      NG 4 months ago

      Great Article. Helpful. This is the only one article i found which describes how to deal with psychopath or sociopath. Thanks for posting.

    • Karli McClane profile image

      Psycho Free Zone 4 months ago from USA

      I'm glad you found the information to be useful. Thank you for stopping by.

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